One of the most surprising aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic for those of us who teach the history of public health is how unwilling many Americans have been to adopt health measures to protect others. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, tens of millions of Americans traveled, despite the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged them to stay home and the overall death rate from the coronavirus is approaching 300,000. Should recent events make us revisit aspects of the history of public health? And how can these stories inform future public health efforts during pandemics?
BIOETHICS FORUM ESSAY
In his recent piece, “The genes we’re dealt,” Erik Parens puts his finger on cause for concern with what he calls social genomics: while progressives can use insights from this new field to justify combating inequality, conservatives can use them to justify the existence of that same inequality. This pessimistic conclusion—which Parens argues convincingly for—follows from a focus on insights at the societal level, that of a whole population. But there are grounds for optimism by focusing instead on potential insights from social genomics derived from local-level comparisons between different environments. Such insights could point to interventions that progressives and conservatives might just be able to agree on.
The procurement of human plasma as a potential therapy for Covid-19 is one of the latest examples of bioethics nationalism, defined by Jonathan Moreno in this blog as “distinct bioethics standards [which] are formally proclaimed as a matter of right by a sovereign state.” The race for a Covid cure pushes at the weak seams in the international liberal order in much the same way that Covid appears to be pushing at health care systems.
Leah Zallman’s meticulous research helps us all to tell the story of what immigrants give to this nation and what they should receive from this nation.
Newly published first-person stories of the challenges, struggles, and joys of providing care for family members or another close person with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia “depict humanity on the brink.”
Concerns about the health status of sitting presidents of the United States can raise significant questions in medical ethics, notably regarding the scope of a president’s right to confidentiality and of the public’s need—or right—to know about the president’s health, the role and responsibilities of the president’s physician, and the appropriateness of offering unapproved treatments. These concerns are heightened during the global pandemic for which there is no cure or vaccine and limited information about treatments.
Albert R. Jonsen, a pioneer of medicine and a founder of the field of medical ethics, died peacefully in his home on October 21 at 89. We first met in 1973, when I was a medical student and I was interested in medical ethics. He gave me the best career advice I have ever received. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Finish your medical training first. If you don’t have the same credentials as the doctors, and share their world, they won’t listen.”
The Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous guidance for an emergency use authorization of a Covid vaccine was met by resistance from the White House, since some of the terms would make it virtually impossible to issue a vaccine-related emergency authorization before Election Day. Understanding the ethical dimensions of issuing it for a vaccine can provide clarity on the necessity of the FDA’s stringent guidelines.
Multiple candidate vaccines for coronavirus are being evaluated scientifically in a process of unprecedented speed, and thousands of individuals around the world have volunteered to participate in placebo-controlled phase III field trials. If, or when, one of these candidate vaccines is proved to be safe and effective and receives an emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, will it continue to be ethical to enroll participants in other coronavirus trials that randomize half of them to a placebo?
This year’s Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, marks a historic pivot. Last week, Boston Children’s Hospital revealed that its physicians would no longer perform certain nonconsensual infant genital surgeries on babies born with atypical genitals. They join the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, which made a similar announcement in July and even apologized to its former intersex patients. Intersex advocates have been working toward this goal for decades.
How could I, the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, be obligated to provide not just satisfactory, but exceptional care to such a morally repugnant character?