medical ethics

Pandemic Ethics: Why Lock Down of the Elderly is Not Ageist and Why Levelling Down Equality is Wrong

By Julian Savulescu and James Cameron

Cross-posted with the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog

 

Countries all around the world struggle to develop policies on how to exit the COVID-19 lockdown to restore liberty and prevent economic collapse, while also protecting public health from a resurgence of the pandemic. Hopefully, an effective vaccine or treatment will emerge, but in the meantime the strategy involves continued containment and management of limited resources.

One strategy is a staged relaxation of lockdown. This post explores whether a selective continuation of lockdown on certain groups, in this case the aged, represents unjust discrimination. The arguments extend to any group (co-morbidities, immunosuppressed, etc.) who have significantly increased risk of death.

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National Ethics Framework For Use in Acute Paediatric Settings During COVID-19 Pandemic

This ethical framework is a modification of guidance developed for treatment decisions relating to adults. The principles relating to decisions for children in the setting of the pandemic are the same as those for adults. The framework emphasises that decisions should be ethically consistent and apply to patients both with COVID-related and non-COVID related illness.
The focus of the ethical framework provides guidance for a situation where there is extremely high demand and limited critical care capacity. However, it is important to note that at the time of writing (14 April 2020) there is enough paediatric critical care capacity across the UK. At the present time decisions about children in need of critical care should reflect the same fundamental ethical considerations as apply in normal times. Those decisions should be focused on the best interests of the child, and actively involve parents in decision-making.
The framework is available to read in full on the  Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health website.

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: If Doctors Could Administer a Treatment That Would Move a Patient From a Vegetative State to a Minimally Conscious One, Should They Do So?

This essay was the runner up in the graduate category of the 6th Annual Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics.

Written by University of Oxford student Matthew Minehan.

INTRODUCTION
Sally is a healthy young woman who suffers catastrophic brain trauma. Over many months, her doctors subject her to functional Magnetic Resonance Imagining (fMRI) scans and other assessments that leave them in no doubt that she is in a vegetative state. While she shows sleeping and waking activity patterns, her body is operating on ‘automatic’ and she has no consciousness. She is “incognizant, incapacitated and insensate” (Fenwick 1998, p.86).

Sally’s doctors are aware of a new treatment that, if administered, would move her from the vegetative state to a minimally conscious one. This new state would involve fractured consciousness, a lack of awareness of her condition, an inability to direct her own life and an incapacity for complex thought. Because Sally has no known next of kin and issued no advance directive, the decision on her treatment is left to her medical team.

Should the doctors in this hypothetical scenario administer the treatment to Sally? Continue reading

Cross Post: Flouting Quarantine

Written by Dr Thomas Douglas

Dr Tom Douglas has recently published a fascinating article on the Stockholm Centre, For the Ethics of War and Peace blog:

As I write this, COVID-19, an illness caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is sweeping the globe. Over 15,000 people have died, and it is likely that at least one hundred times this many have been infected with the virus.[2]

The outbreak has brought the ethics of quarantine, isolation and enforced social distancing to public attention. Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and China have been praised in the press for their rigorous deployment of quarantine and other liberty-restricting measures. By contrast, the US and UK have been widely criticised for their relatively lax approach.

There are differences between quarantine (which applies to individuals who may have been exposed to an infection), isolation (which applies to individuals who are ill) and enforced social distancing (which largely preserves freedom of movement), but for the purposes of this post, I’ll treat all three together under the heading of ‘quarantine’. I’ll use this term loosely to refer to all interventions that significantly constrain a person’s freedom of movement and/or association in order to lower the risk that the person will infect others.

See here to read the full article, and to join in the conversation.

Cross Post: Coronavirus: The Conversation We Should Have With Our Loved Ones Now – Leading Medic

Written by Dominic Wilkinson, University of Oxford

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Waiting is never easy. Sometimes the period when you know that something bad is coming is almost harder than when it finally arrives.

Across the health service, there is an enormous and unprecedented effort underway to prepare for the coming surge of patients needing hospital treatment for coronavirus. Looking across to the experience in Italy, Spain and Germany, we know that there is a tsunami coming – a tidal wave of medical need that will swamp us, test us, sweep some of us away.

The analogy with a tsunami is apt because we are at the moment when the waters pull back before the great wave arrives. Some hospitals are eerily quiet; elective surgery has stopped, and some wards have been emptied. Our healthcare workers are anxiously waiting and preparing for what is coming.

Of course, many ordinary people are also waiting, not knowing exactly what lies ahead and fearing the worst. How can they, how can we – all of us – prepare?

The answer is not to panic. But nor should we ignore or downplay the seriousness of the situation. And certainly, it is not to stockpile pasta or loo paper. Continue reading

The Right Not to Know and the Obligation to Know

By Ben Davies

Most people accept that patients have a strong claim (perhaps with some exceptions) to be told information that is relevant to their health and medical care. Patients have a Right to Know. More controversial is the claim that this control goes the other way, too. Some people claim, and others deny, that patients also have a Right Not to Know.

A number of considerations (harm to the patient; autonomy; privacy) have been marshalled on either side of this debate over the past few decades (e.g. Laurie 2004; Robertson and Savulescu 2001; Herring and Foster 2012; Takala 2019). In this post, I focus on a distinct argument and its apparently unassailable logic. This is the view that a comprehensive Right Not to Know cannot be justified because in many cases a patient’s ignorance will likely lead harm to third parties (Council of Europe 1997; Rhodes 1998; Harris and Keywood 2001).

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Responsibility, Healthcare, and Harshness

Written by Gabriel De Marco

Suppose that two patients are in need of a complicated, and expensive, heart surgery. Further suppose that they are identical in various relevant respects: e.g., state of the heart, age, likelihood of success of surgery, etc. However, they differ on one feature: for one of these patients, call her Blair, the need for the heart surgery is due to her lifestyle (suppose she was a smoker), whereas the other, Ingrid, has not had this lifestyle, nor any other that would lead to the need for the surgery.

Some people think that:

  1. We can be responsible and blameworthy for our actions and their consequences.

Some of those people also think that:

  1. We can, or should, take this into account when making decisions about how to distribute healthcare resources.

For the purposes of this blog post, let’s assume 1 and 2 are true. Commonly, it is thought that, in order to be blameworthy for something, one must be responsible for it. Further, it is commonly thought that, whatever the appropriate response is to blameworthiness for something or other (assuming that there is an appropriate response), it will be negative in some sense or other. Now further suppose that Blair is blameworthy for her illness. Given 1 and 2, this fact about Blair, combined with the fact that Ingrid is innocent with regard to her illness, suggests that, at least in some contexts, we should treat them differently (or at least it would be permissible to do so). Call a healthcare policy that adopts, and reflects, 1 and 2 a Responsibility-Sensitive Policy, or RSP for short.

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Health vs Choice? The Vaccination Debate.

On Sunday 3 November, OUC’s Dr Alberto Giubilini participated in a debate on compulsory vaccination at 2019 Battle of Ideas Festival (Barbican Centre, London). Chaired by Ellie Lee, the session also featured Dr Michael Fitzpatrick (GP and author, MMR and Autism: what parents need to know and Defeating Autism: a damaging delusion); Emilie Karafillakis (Vaccine Confidence Project); and Nancy McDermott (author, The Problem with Parenting: a therapeutic mode of childrearing).

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Human Genetic Enhancement Might Soon Be Possible – But Where Do We Draw the Line?

Written by Tess Johnson, University of Oxford

 

How far will we allow genetic enhancement to go?
vchal/ Shutterstock

The first genetically edited children were born in China in late 2018. Twins Lulu and Nana had a particular gene – known as CCR5 – modified during embryonic development. The aim was to make them (and their descendants) resistant to HIV. By some definitions, this would be an example of human enhancement.

Although there is still a long way to go before the technology is safe, this example has shown it’s possible to edit genes that will continue being inherited by genetic offspring for generations. However, we don’t yet know what effect these genetic changes will have on the overall health of the twins throughout life. Potential unintended changes to other genes is a grave concern which is limiting our use of gene editing technology at the moment – but this limit won’t always be present. Continue reading

Diet, Changing Desires, and Dementia

Written by Ben Davies

Last week saw the launch of a campaign (run by the group Vegetarian For Life) that seeks to ensure that older people in care who have ethical commitments to a particular diet are not given food that violates those commitments. This is, as the campaign makes clear, a particularly pressing issue for those who have some form of dementia who may not be capable of expressing their commitment.

Those behind the campaign are quite right to note that people’s ethical beliefs should not be ignored simply because they are in care, or have a cognitive impairment (see a Twitter thread where I discuss this with a backer of the campaign). But the idea that one’s dietary ethics must be ‘for life’ got me thinking about a more well-established debate about Advance Directives. (I should stress that what I say here should not be taken to be imputing any particular motivation or philosophical commitments to those behind the campaign itself.)

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