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Ethics Guidance Released on Access to Drugs in COVID-19 Response

Hastings Center national advisory group offers guidance on issues of relief of suffering during Covid-19 outbreaks

New ethical guidance from The Hastings Center responds to the challenges of allocating therapeutic and palliative medications under conditions of scarcity during Covid-19 outbreaks.

The Hastings Center produced this document with an advisory group of leading health care ethicists and other experts who provided insights from throughout the nation. It builds on The Hastings Center’s Ethical Framework for Health Care Institutions Responding to Covid-19, released in March as one of the initial efforts to guide frontline health care professionals through this public health crisis.

The new document on access to therapeutic and palliative drugs in the context of Covid-19:

  • features lessons from the initial Covid-19 surge, including the consequences of drug shortages;
  • describes the symptom relief needs of Covid-19 patients and the ethical mandate to provide palliative care during public health emergencies;
  • identifies emerging ethical challenges in the allocation of new or experimental therapeutic drugs used in the treatment of Covid-19 patients;
  • discusses Covid-19 epidemiological data reflecting population-level vulnerabilities produced by inequality, and how to draw on data to develop equitable approaches to drug allocation, and
  • demonstrates how to discuss and develop ethically sound policies and processes for health care institutions and regional collaborations involving health care providers and state and municipal health policymakers, with further resources.

“The continuing pandemic in the U.S. means that physicians, nurses, clinical ethicists, and other health care professionals are facing fresh challenges in how to respond to this public health crisis,” said Nancy Berlinger, the Hasting Center research scholar who directs this initiative. “This new guidance reflects input from the frontline on real-world needs and questions, to provide practical support in hospitals, other Covid-19 care settings, and to policymakers, with special attention to the relief of suffering and the mitigation of vulnerabilities produced by social inequalities.”

This initiative also includes guidance on regional collaborations for health care organizations responding to Covid-19.

Support for this rapid-response work is provided by The Hastings Center Impact Fund.