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.
By Brandon George and Nicolas P. Terry
Earlier this month, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse identified those with substance use disorder (SUD) as a particularly vulnerable population during the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted the negative effects of opioid or methamphetamine use on respiratory and pulmonary health in addition to the disproportionate number of those with SUD who are homeless or incarcerated.
We detail the additional challenges faced by the SUD population and, specifically, the opioid use disorder (OUD) sub-group at this time, identify positive ameliorative steps taken by federal, state, and local governments, and recommend additional steps.
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
The recommendations for healthy people who have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, the illness caused by the corona virus called SARS-Co-V2, is to stay at home, get plenty of rest, drink fluids and control fever and body-aches with a non-steroidal medication. For people with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly or those with more serious symptoms, an evaluation by a healthcare provider is warranted. This is a reasonable recommendation given that for most healthy people, the symptoms are uncomfortable but not life-threatening. There is a population however, that regardless of the severity of their illness, may stay at home and not seek medical care, even when things are serious. Fear of arrest and deportation is a real issue for undocumented immigrants and calling an ambulance or going to a hospital can put them at risk for these actions. The result is that some very sick people may not seek appropriate medical care. In addition, they may be taken care of by people that don’t have the appropriate personal protection, putting even more people at risk.
As the United States continues its response to a seemingly inevitable coronavirus epidemic, experts in law and public health are stressing the importance of supportive social safety nets to ensure an equitable and fair response to the virus’s spread.
If you are one of the nearly two million Americans who works for minimum wage, for much of the service industry, or in the contingent labor force, a situation that forces you to stay home from work – because of illness, or government- or self-imposed quarantine or social distancing measures – could create dire financial circumstances and inhibit measures to mitigate the impact of an infectious disease like COVID-19.
What if, instead of closing airports, shutting down trains and buses, quarantining travelers from China, and enclosing 50 million people inside the city of Wuhan and Hubei province, we had a sophisticated technology that could identify travelers who might spread an emerging infectious disease? This question is not hypothetical. We do have an available technology: polymerase chain reaction (PCR) rapid testing, one among several forms of nucleic acid amplification technology.
But PCR rapid testing has been deployed imperfectly at best, especially in the United States. The initial case of what is thought to have been community transmission in the United States was not tested for several days. The result was preventable exposures to infection of health care workers and potentially others. Testing criteria were set very narrowly. Rapid test kits designed by CDC did not work successfully because of problems with one of the reagents. On February 29, the FDA issued guidance allowing laboratories CLIA-certified for high complexity testing to use tests they had developed and validated before receiving emergency use approval.