Responding to Covid-19: How to Navigate a Public Health Emergency Legally and Ethically

Hastings Cent Rep. 2020 Mar;50(2):8-12. doi: 10.1002/hast.1090. Epub 2020 Mar 26.

Abstract

Few novel or emerging infectious diseases have posed such vital ethical challenges so quickly and dramatically as the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. The World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern and recently classified Covid-19 as a worldwide pandemic. As of this writing, the epidemic has not yet peaked in the United States, but community transmission is widespread. President Trump declared a national emergency as fifty governors declared state emergencies. In the coming weeks, hospitals will become overrun, stretched to their capacities. When the health system becomes stretched beyond capacity, how can we ethically allocate scarce health goods and services? How can we ensure that marginalized populations can access the care they need? What ethical duties do we owe to vulnerable people separated from their families and communities? And how do we ethically and legally balance public health with civil liberties?

Keywords: Covid-19; allocation of scarce resources; civil liberties; crisis standards of care; novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2; public health emergency; public health ethics.

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control*
  • Emergencies
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / prevention & control*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / prevention & control*
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • United States