basketball on court

The Long-Term Harm of Favoritism in COVID-19 Testing

By Jonathan M. Marron and Paul C. McLean

One of us is a sports fan, childhood cancer doctor, and bioethicist. The other is a former sportswriter drawn to medical ethics since the cure of his only child. If sports and ethics have something in common, it’s the value of a level playing field. Fairness matters. There’s a coin toss: heads or tails. Fairness, not favoritism.

We view the doctor-patient relationship through slightly different lenses, but it’s precious either way. It’s a relationship — above all else — built on trust. And that relationship, a cornerstone of healthcare, is suddenly like an already vulnerable person facing an uncertain prognosis. If the doctor-patient relationship is to survive the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it will require a unified team, trust, and a level playing field, regardless of how much money or influence you have.

What does sports have to do with this?

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Medicine law concept. Gavel and stethoscope on book close up

Free Online Ethics Resources Available from the Perelman School of Medicine

By Holly Fernandez Lynch

One of the silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic has been seeing communities come together to offer support in ways big and small. Individuals are organizing drives to collect personal protective equipment for health care workers, media outlets are making pandemic content available for free, and children’s book authors are hosting online story times to offer a brief respite for parents suddenly thrust into homeschooling.

In that same spirit, the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania is hoping to ease the burden for bioethics faculty and bioethics and health professions students who may be in search of online content as their learning experiences have moved out of the brick-and-mortar classroom. We’re offering a variety of recorded video content in clinical and research ethics at no charge through at least June 30 – with lectures from two Petrie-Flom alums, Holly Fernandez Lynch and Emily A. Largent, as well as other faculty experts.

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Young male doctor in telehealth concept

Telehealth amid COVID-19: What Health Care Providers Should Know

By Adriana Krasniansky

COVID-19 stands to be a watershed moment for telehealth adoption within the U.S. healthcare system.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) (part of the Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS) announced expanded Medicare telehealth coverage for over 80 health services, to be delivered over video or audio channels. Additionally, the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced it would waive potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) penalties for good faith use of telehealth during the emergency. Both measures are designed to enable patients to receive a wider range of health care services remotely, reducing clinical congestion and limiting transmission of the virus. 

In the midst of this emergency situation, health care providers can take measures to consider the ethical and legal aspects of tele-practice as they get started. This article is a short primer to help medical professionals understand telehealth in this moment, navigate regulations and technology practice standards, and choose technologies to support quality patient care. Read More

cruise ship

Old and New Ways of Coping with COVID-19: Ethics Matters (Part I)

By Leslie Francis and Margaret Pabst Battin

This post is part I of a two-part series on pandemic control strategies in response to COVID-19.

Your life and the lives of many others may depend now on isolation, quarantine, cordon sanitaire, shelter in place, or physical distancing.

These terms have entered the public consciousness rapidly. Though general awareness has increased, the important practical and ethical differences between these practices require further explanation.

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LOMBARDIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 26, 2020: Empty hospital field tent for the first AID, a mobile medical unit of red cross for patient with Corona Virus. Camp room for people infected with an epidemic.

Pandemic Guidelines, Not Changed Malpractice Rules, Are the Right Response to COVID-19

By Valerie Gutmann Koch, Govind Persad, and Wendy Netter Epstein

On March 17, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Dr. Jeremy Faust, titled Make This Simple Change to Free Up Hospital Beds Now. In it, he argues that cities and states should “temporarily relax the legal standard of medical malpractice,” in order to encourage hospitals to admit, and physicians to treat, the patients who need help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a tweet promoting the piece, Dr. Faust expresses concern that in the absence of such a legal change, “docs will keep doing ‘usual’ low yield admissions.”

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Photograph of a doctor in blue scrubs overlaid with an illustration of a padlock

Anonymity in the Time of a Pandemic: Privacy vs. Transparency

By Cansu Canca

As coronavirus cases increase worldwide, institutions keep their communities informed with frequent updates—but only up to a point. They share minimal information such as number of cases, but omit the names of individuals and identifying information.

Many institutions are legally obligated to protect individual privacy, but is this prohibition of transparency ethically justified?

Some even go a step further and ask you, an individual in a community, to choose privacy over transparency as well. Harvard—alongside with  Yale, Chicago, and Northwestern—requests you to “Please Respect Individuals’ Privacy. Anonymity for these individuals remains paramount. Please respect their privacy—even if you believe you know who they are—so they can focus completely on their health” (emphasis in original).

But do you have an ethical obligation to do so at the time of a pandemic?

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corridor with hospital beds

3 Human Rights Imperatives for Rationing Care in the Time of Coronavirus

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Ole F. Norheim

Scholarly and official statements and publications regarding human rights during the current pandemic have largely reiterated the important lessons learned from HIV/AIDS, Zika and Ebola, such as: engagement with affected communities; combatting stigma and discrimination; ensuring access for the most vulnerable; accounting for gendered effects; and limiting rights restrictions in the name of public health.

But there is a notable silence as to one of the most critical decisions that almost every society will face during the COVID-19 pandemic: rationing scarce health care resources and access to care.

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Call for Submissions: Journal of Law and Biosciences, “Law and Ethics in the Time of a Global Pandemic”

The Journal of Law and the Biosciences (JLB) is soliciting essays, commentaries, or short articles for a special issue on “Law and Ethics in the Time of a Global Pandemic.” For this issue we especially encourage shorter pieces, of roughly 1500 to 5000 words. If any particular aspect of how this pandemic will affect some part of the law—from lease terms to courtroom procedures to constitutional questions about mandatory testing—intrigues you, write it up and send it in.

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hospital equipment, including heart rate monitor and oxygen monitor functioning at bedside.

The Ethical Allocation of Scarce Resources in the US During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Role of Bioethics

By Beatrice Brown

Critical resources for handling the COVID-19 pandemic, including ventilators and ICU beds, are quickly becoming scarce in the US as the number and density of infections continue to rise. Leading bioethicists have crafted guidelines for the ethical rationing of these scarce resources during the pandemic. On March 16, The Hastings Center published “Ethical Framework for Health Care Institutions and Guidelines for Institutional Ethics Services Responding to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic,” detailing three ethical duties for health care leaders: 1) duty to plan; 2) duty to safeguard; and 3) duty to guide. The report also contains a compilation of materials on resource and ventilator allocation.

More recently, on March 23, two insightful pieces were published in the New England Journal of Medicine: “The Toughest Triage — Allocating Ventilators in a Pandemic” by Truog, Mitchell, and Daley, and “Fair Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in the Time of Covid-19” by Emanuel et al. These two pieces complement each other well and lay a crucial foundation for the inevitable resource allocation that clinicians and hospitals will be forced to practice in the coming weeks. As such, here, I summarize the central takeaways from these two articles while understanding their recommendations in tandem, as well as reflect on the importance of bioethics during these times of medical crisis and how the work of this field must adapt to changing circumstances. Read More