Pandemics pose many ethical dilemmas because the rights of the individual and the well-being of the population (public health) may be in conflict. For example, resources may become scarce, and rationing leads to ethical dilemmas and decisions on who has access to healthcare services. Requirements to wear masks, social distance, self-isolation and quarantine, and vaccination often lead to conflicts of personal rights and public health mandates, as well as personal and professional ethics. COVID-19 is the most recent pandemic, but the same ethical dilemmas were faced over the past 20 years with the pandemics of SARS, Ebola, Zika, and influenza.
Watch this video about stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Read the following articles:
- Supporting the Healthcare Workforce During the COVID-19 Global Epidemic
- Understanding and Addressing Sources of Anxiety Among Healthcare Professionals During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Then, read the following case study.
Epidemics and pandemics pose ethical dilemmas to the community and to healthcare workers and healthcare institutions. Whether it is influenza, COVID-19, or other infectious disease outbreak, healthcare workers have professional and personal obligations to care for patients and are considered “essential personnel.” They have a duty to care for their patients but also responsibilities to care for themselves and their families. The healthcare organization also has a duty to care for its employees.
Consider Janet who is a 30-year-old medical assistant working in an urgent care center that is seeing many patients with respiratory illnesses and many are coming in for testing. The center has experienced shortages in its supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) and are short staffed at times.
Janet’s husband is concerned that she will develop the disease and bring it home to him, their children, and his mother who lives with them. He does not want her to go to work, but Janet does not want to abandon the patients or contribute to the stress of an already overworked healthcare team.
Based on the scenario, answer the following questions:
- Janet must come to a decision and resolve her ethical dilemma. What is she likely to consider in making her decision? What personal values and morals and professional ethics contribute to the dilemma?
- What other ethical dilemmas do healthcare professionals and public health officials face in dealing with pandemics such as influenza and COVID-19?