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Hastings Center Report

Reciprocity and Liability Protections during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Abstract: During the Covid-19 pandemic, as resources dwindled, clinicians, health care institutions, and policymakers have expressed concern about potential legal liability for following crisis standards of care (CSC) plans. Although there is no robust empirical research to demonstrate that liability protections actually influence physician behavior, we argue that limited liability protections for health care professionals who follow established CSC plans may instead be justified by reliance on the principle of reciprocity. Expecting physicians to do something they know will harm their patients causes moral distress and suffering that may leave lasting scars. Limited liability shields are both appropriate and proportionate to the risk physicians are being asked to take in such circumstances. Under certain narrow circumstances, it remains unclear that the standard of care is sufficiently flexible to protect physicians from liability. Given this uncertainty, the likelihood that physicians would be sued for such an act, and their desire for such immunity, this limited protection is morally legitimate. 

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