Hastings Center News

America’s Bioethicists and Health Care Leaders: Government Must Use Federal Powers To Fight COVID-19

Nearly 1,400 of the nation’s most prominent bioethicists and health leaders signed an urgent letter to Congress and the White House, imploring the U.S. government to immediately use its federal power and funds to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic as a matter of moral imperative. The petition was developed by Mildred Solomon, president of The Hastings Center, and Lawrence Gostin, a Hastings Fellow and director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

The letter calls for five immediate federal actions:

  • Ensure the manufacture and distribution of needed supplies.
  • Commit to payment for COVID-19 care and treatment.
  • Provide sick leave for all.
  • Protect the vulnerable.
  • Build a comprehensive, trustworthy communication strategy.

The signatories acknowledge that President Trump has invoked the Defense Production Act, which grants the administration broad powers to incentivize and direct the manufacture of essential medical and other supplies. However, the administration has refrained from using that power to its full extent. The bioethicists are now calling for immediate, forceful federal action to rapidly manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment and much-needed ventilators and to take other critical actions hospitals and health professionals need urgently.

 “We are at a precipice and implore the federal government to act—to do things only the U.S. government has the power and the means to do— and upon which the nation’s vitality depends,” said Solomon, explaining the purpose of the petition. “Because of the dire lack of supplies and ventilators, health care workers will face heart-wrenching decisions with life and death consequences. As bioethicists, we have the expertise to offer triage guidance, but our first and immediate obligation is to prevent or dramatically reduce the need for such decisions.”

The bioethicists also emphasized the humanitarian disaster that awaits and the likelihood of human rights violations.

“In a pandemic, the federal government must ensure that hospitals and health professionals have all the tools they need to protect themselves, the public, and their patients,” Gostin said, and went on to define coordinated, forceful federal action as an ethical duty: “Equity and justice are vital, safeguarding community health while protecting the most vulnerable. The federal government must recognize that, no matter one’s political affiliations or ideologies, this is a moral imperative, and nothing short of powerful government action will work.”