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The global crisis created by the coronavirus pandemic and the rush to create and distribute a vaccine widely hoped to be a “silver bullet” that can facilitate a return to “normalcy” threatens to upend seven decades of assumptions about bioethical norms.
BIOETHICS FORUM ESSAY
In many ways, black bioethics can be explained very simply as the exploration and interrogation of any event, ideal, technological advancement, person, or institution that directly or indirectly affects the health or well-being of black (loosely defined) individuals or the black population. Black bioethics is taking what we do in bioethics and specifically applying it to black people. But in other ways black bioethics is more than this; it is a rebellion against bioethics.
Police consider tear gas, stun guns, and other “less-lethal” weapons essential to public safety. But, too often, it’s their use that threatens safety. It’s time to explore medicine’s complicity in perpetuating brutality that disproportionately impacts nonwhite communities, especially Black Americans.
Personal ventilators used by people with disabilities should not reallocated to people with Covid-19. Triage protocols should be immediately clarified and explicitly state that personal ventilators will be protected in all cases.
As more workplaces open up, a seldom-used legal action is being taken against employers charged with inadequately protecting employees from the coronavirus: public nuisance lawsuits.
A central mandate of the ADA is to make the goods of society accessible to people with disabilities and overcome their segregation in civil society through reasonable accommodation that allows them to go to work, live with their neighbors, and avoid institutionalization. But let’s not delude ourselves with historic sentimentality as disability law is placed under tremendous stress by the pandemic.
I knew that being a foster parent would be demanding, but I was unprepared for the extent of the challenges, which were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Is it unrealistic to believe that phone apps for digital Covid contact tracing can be designed and regulated in ways that prevent the information they collect from being misused? It’s worth remembering surveillance of Vietnam War protesters and Martin Luther King Jr.
With some reluctance, I’ve come to the sad realization the COVID-19 pandemic has been a stress test for bioethics, a field of study that intersects medicine, law, the humanities and the social sciences. As both a physician and medical ethicist, I arrived at this conclusion after spending months at what was once the epicenter of the pandemic: New York City. I was overseeing a 24/7 bioethics consultation service.
In his recent JAMA article, Donald Berwick eloquently describes what he termed the “moral determinants of health,” by which he meant a strong sense of social solidarity in which people in the United States would “depend on each other for securing the basic circumstances of healthy lives,” reflecting a “moral law within.” Berwick’s work should serve as a call to action for bioethicists and clinical ethicists to consider what they can do to be forces of broad moral change in their institutions.
Several states, including Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma, declared abortion a nonessential service at some point during the pandemic, meaning that it was effectively banned until the crisis passed. Supporters of the policies maintain that abortion is an elective procedure whose medical resources are better off used in the fight against the pandemic. But abortion opponents have been taking advantage of the current circumstances to limit abortion access.