Washington DC 09 20 2021. More than 600,000 white flags honor lives lost to COVID, on the National Mall. The art installation " In America: Remember" was created by Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg.

Introduction to the Symposium: Health Law and Policy in an Era of Mass Suffering

By Chloe Reichel and Benjamin A. Barsky

Last spring, the United States crossed the bleak and preventable 1,000,000-death mark for lives lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this symposium, our hope is to acknowledge — and mourn — this current era of mass suffering and death.

In particular, we want to reckon with the role of health law and policy in shaping, and at times catalyzing, the impact that the pandemic has had on our loved ones and communities.

We asked a diverse range of scholars, practitioners, and individuals with lived experience to respond to the general prompt described above, and provided a few potential avenues for further exploration, including:

1. The need for reinvigorated social safety net laws, policies, and programs, including in the areas of reproductive health, labor and employment, harm reduction, and long-term care;

2. The role of the carceral system in exacerbating harm among historically marginalized communities during the pandemic, including people who are racialized and those who use drugs;

3. The persistent de-prioritization of people with disabilities in disease prevention policy;

4. The risks inherent to leaving matters of public health in the hands of private actors during public health emergencies; and

5. The drawbacks associated with relying on systems of decentralized governance and federalism to address health and public health crises.

Over the coming weeks, we will publish the responses we received. We are grateful to all contributors and look forward to sharing their valuable insights through this symposium.

Chloe Reichel

Chloe Reichel is the Petrie-Flom Center’s Communications Manager. She serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Bill of Health blog and leads the Center's broader communications efforts.

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