A stethoscope tied around a pile of cash, with a pill bottle nearby. The pill bottle has cash and pills inside.

We Haven’t ‘Learned the Lessons of COVID’ Until We Remake the Political Economy of Health

By Beatrice Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant

Over the course of the pandemic it has been popular to claim that we have “learned lessons from COVID,” as though this plague has spurred a revolution in how we treat illness, debility, and death under capitalism.

Management consulting firm McKinsey, for example, writes that COVID has taught us that “infectious diseases are a whole-of-society issue.” A Yale Medicine bulletin tells us that we successfully learned “everyone is not treated equally, especially in a pandemic.” These bromides reflect the Biden administration’s evaluation of its own efforts; a recent White House report professes to have “successfully put equity at the center of a public health response for the first time in the nation’s history.”

We have learned nothing from COVID. The ongoing death, debility, disability, and immiseration of the pandemic are testament only to a failed political economy that pretends at magnanimity.

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NEW YORK, NY - MAY 24, 2020: New York Times newspaper with "U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss" front-page article delivered to front door in Manhattan.

Pandemic Nihilism, Social Murder, and the Banality of Evil

­­By Nate Holdren

Every day in the pandemic, many people’s lives end, and others are made irrevocably worse.[1]

These daily losses matter inestimably at a human level, yet they do not matter in any meaningful way at all to the public and private institutions that govern our lives. Our suffering is inconsequential to the machinery of power and to those who compose and operate that machinery. This has been the case all along, but in this phase of the pandemic, our suffering has been nihilistically recast as not just inconsequential, but inevitable by the administration and the voices it has cultivated as its proxies. Consider, for example, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s remarks during President Biden’s July 2022 COVID-19 infection: “As we have said, almost everyone is going to get COVID.”

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Sign at train station in Berlin that describes free support for pet owners coming from Ukraine.

Ethical Challenges Associated with the Protection of Pets in War

(Photo: Sign at the central train station in Berlin (Berlin Hauptbahnhof) that offers free support for pet owners coming from Ukraine. Courtesy of Kristin Sandvik.)

By Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Introduction

The care for animals rapidly became a part of the humanitarian narrative of the attack on Ukraine.

There are countless accounts of the efforts of activists, shelters and zoo staff to keep animals alive, as well as underground operations to get them to safety. And, as Ukrainians flee for their lives, they are frequently accompanied by their pets.

EU initiatives and advocacy efforts by animal rights groups pushed receiving countries to modify entrance requirements, waive fees, provide veterinary services, and shorten or eliminate quarantine times. The EU announced a special derogation in Regulation 2013/576, allowing the import of Ukrainian refugee pets without meeting standard requirements. Many governments have welcomed Ukrainian pets with or without their owners, and without documentation, rabies vaccine, and/or microchip.

Humanitarian action is typically human centric; this broad societal acceptance of pets as legitimate refugee companions, and the attendant rapid regulatory accommodations, are unique developments. In this blog, I draw on perspectives from disaster studies, international humanitarian law (IHL), refugee studies, and animal studies to articulate a set of ethical dilemmas around classification and policymaking that arise when pets are recognized as a humanitarian protection problem.

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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.

Depoliticizing Social Murder in the COVID-19 Pandemic

­­By Nate Holdren

Lire en français.

The present pandemic nightmare is the most recent and an especially acute manifestation of capitalist society’s tendency to kill many, regularly, a tendency that Friedrich Engels called “social murder.” Capitalism kills because destructive behaviors are, to an important extent, compulsory in this kind of society. Enough businesses must make enough money or serious social consequences follow — for them, their employees, and for government. In order for that to happen, the rest of us must continue the economic activities that are obligatory to maintain such a society.

That these activities are obligatory means capitalist societies are market dependent: market participation is not optional, but mandatory. As Beatrice Adler-Bolton has put it, in capitalism “you are entitled to the survival you can buy,” and so people generally do what they have to in order to get money. The predictable results are that some people don’t get enough money to survive; some people endure danger due to harmful working, living, and environmental conditions; some people endure lack of enough goods and services of a high enough quality to promote full human flourishing; and some people inflict the above conditions on others. The simple, brutal reality is that capitalism kills many, regularly. (The steadily building apocalypse of the climate crisis is another manifestation of the tendency to social murder, as is the very old and still ongoing killing of workers in the ordinary operations of so many workplaces.)

The tendency to social murder creates potential problems that governments must manage, since states too are subject to pressures and tendencies arising from capitalism. They find themselves facing the results of social murder, results they are expected to respond to, with their options relatively constrained by the limits placed on them by capitalism. Within that context governments often resort to a specific tactic of governance: depoliticization.

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umbrella covering home under heavy rain.

Weathering the Climate Crisis: The Health Benefits and Policy Challenges of Home Weatherization

By James R. Jolin

Weatherization serves as an important yet strikingly neglected tool not only to meet vulnerable communities’ energy needs, but also to combat the negative health effects associated with the climate crisis.

In the United States, households with lower gross income experience higher “energy burdens” — that is, the proportion of a household’s income that is expended to meet energy costs. Indeed, households earning 200% of the federal poverty line spend an estimated 8% of their income on meeting energy costs, as compared to the national median of 3%. Weatherization, the catch-all term for home improvements intended to improve the efficiency of home energy use, is a way to decrease disparate energy costs across socioeconomic classes.

Standard weatherization measures, which include (but are not limited to) repairing and modernizing temperature control systems and installing insulation, reduce the amount of money households need to spend on heating and cooling. In all, weatherization measures save over $280 on average per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy — a modest but nonetheless important savings.

Crucially, however, weatherization also confers significant health benefits, which are not only ideal in their own right, but also result in further significant financial savings.

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Global connections concept illustration.

21st Century Lawmaking in an Interdependent World

By Caroline E. Foster

A new pandemic instrument should explicitly embrace the three emerging global regulatory standards of due diligence, due regard, and regulatory coherence.

These standards sit at the interface between national and international law to help functionally align the two in ways that will protect and advance shared and competing interests in an interdependent world.

The standards require nations to exercise their regulatory power in certain ways, including demonstrating (i) due regard for the international legal rights and interests of others, (ii) due diligence in the prevention of harm to other States, and (iii) regulatory coherence between governmental measures and their objectives. These international law standards are already implicit in and given effect by the operation of WHO’s current International Health Regulations (IHR) of 2005.

As we develop new pandemic instruments, their presence should be made increasingly explicit. Giving a stronger profile to the standards will help generate new political impetus and new legal bases for implementation of world health law, and fit it to 21st century application.

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Climate protest sign that reads "no nature no future."

Climate Change and Pregnancy: Policies for Impact

By Cydney Murray

The ongoing, worsening environmental crisis is exacerbating negative pregnancy outcomes associated with climate change.

Exposure to air pollutants, such as smog (ozone) and PM2.5 (another type of air pollution), is linked to impaired fetal growth, increased likelihood of cancer, autism spectrum disorder, stillbirth, and low birth weight. These health consequences have the potential to impact children’s overall quality of life by affecting their brain development, and their susceptibility to disease.

Climate change is worsening this established association, particularly for those living in urban environments with high air pollutant exposure. This disproportionately affects women of color, since they are more likely to live in more highly polluted areas, and already suffer a higher risk of negative pregnancy outcomes.

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Landscape of dry and cracked land

Climate Change is Harming Health and the Treatment is Medicine, Law, and Bioethics

By Renee N. Salas

The flurry of media around recent climate change reports may have left your head spinning. These were all released in anticipation of the United Nation’s 24th Convention of the Party (COP24), in follow-up to the Paris Agreement, where the actual nuts and bolts of achieving this historic public health commitment was to be ironed out.

There are two key messages from these reports for the United States. First, climate change is human caused, happening today, and is worse than predicted. Second, climate change is harming the health of Americans now.

As an emergency medicine doctor, telling a patient a diagnosis is something I do frequently. Thus, if America were my patient, I would say that while the health diagnosis of climate change is grave, there is reason to be optimistic — because treatment exists. That treatment is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and switching from fossil fuels to solar and wind.

To achieve this treatment in our current political environment, we need historic teamwork that involves every discipline. This includes medicine, law, and bioethics joining together in novel collaborations that work to improve health and save lives.

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Housing Equity Week in Review

An update from the world of housing law and equity, for the week of October 30-November 3, 2017

  • New viewpoint article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, from Megan Sandel, MD, MPH and Matthew Desmond, PhD, says investing in housing for health improves mission and margin.
  • An analysis from the Seattle Times asks, “Will allowing more housing types in some single-family zones make Seattle’s whitest neighborhoods more racially diverse?”
  • As sea levels rise, wealthy people can more easily afford to move to high ground, making gentrification worse, via Yale Climate Connections.
  • A new study finds a correlation between the number of patents a city produces and economic segregation within its limits, via the Atlantic.
  • Benjamin Somogyi argues in the Regulatory Review, to solve the next foreclosure crisis, look to Sacramento
  • New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., have approved funding to provide legal defense to low-income tenants at risk of eviction. A look at how free legal help could prevent evictions, via Huffington Post.

Breaking the Mold: Law and Mold Remediation after a Natural Disaster

By Nicolas Wilhelm, JD

We’re in the midst of the hurricane season here on the East Coast, and with hurricanes come a host of health-related concerns from emergency preparedness to the clean-up after a disaster.

One of the issues rarely discussed in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Sandy —two of the costliest natural disasters in US history — is the mold growth that occurred in water-damaged homes. One study indicated that the concentration of mold in flooded areas after Hurricane Katrina was roughly double the concentration in non-flooded areas.

With natural disasters occurring with greater frequency in recent years (there were three times as many natural disasters occurring from 2000 through 2009 than from 1980 to 1989), law may play a role in keeping Americans safe.

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