a street protest with people holding signs protesting lockdowns

Hastings Center Report

Lockdowns, Bioethics, and the Public: Policy-Making in a Liberal Democracy

Abstract: Commentaries on the ethics of Covid lockdowns nearly all focus on offering substantive guidance to policy-makers. Lockdowns, however, raise many ethical questions that admit of a range of reasonable answers. In such cases, policy-making in a liberal democracy ought to be sensitive to which reasonable views the public actually holds—a topic existing bioethical work on lockdowns has not explored in detail. In this essay, I identify several important questions connected to the kind of influence the public ought to have on lockdown decision-making, including how policy-makers ought to handle misinformed or morally suspect viewpoints, and how policy-makers ought to respond to minority viewpoints. I argue that questions like this, concerning the appropriate influence of the public on decision-making, will be central to the field of bioethics as it increasingly focuses on policy and population-level issues and therefore ought to be priorities for future work.

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