The bioethics of loneliness

Bioethics. 2021 Jun;35(5):446-455. doi: 10.1111/bioe.12870. Epub 2021 Apr 7.


This article poses an invitation for bioethicists to engage with loneliness as a bioethics and public health concern. I argue that loneliness is a relevant issue for bioethicists for three main reasons: it causes ill-health; particularly in the age of Covid-19, it is becoming prominent on the clinical and public health agenda, affecting millions worldwide; and it engenders several ethical and philosophical questions as a social determinant of health with a rich conceptual background. In what follows I first review the link between loneliness and ill-health and argue that it should concern bioethicists because of this link. I also demonstrate how pertinent the issue of loneliness is being considered nowadays, and mark this as another reason for bioethicists to become engaged. I then move on to define loneliness and its various forms, drawing from modern and contemporary philosophers. The way we choose to cope with the pandemic of loneliness depends in part on its theoretical underpinnings, as well as its empirical scope. Theory thus combines with empirical data in order to devise and implement a rational public health policy, necessitating the kind of interdisciplinary approach that is the bedrock of bioethics. I conclude by suggesting future areas of research and recommendations.

Keywords: existential; loneliness; social isolation.

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics*
  • COVID-19 / psychology*
  • Ethicists
  • Ethics*
  • Humans
  • Loneliness*
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Determinants of Health / ethics*
  • Social Isolation
  • Social Support