Jonathan Lewis
University of Manchester
Udo Schüklenk
Queen's University
The COVID-19 pandemic has coincided with the proliferation of ethical guidance documents to assist public health authorities, health care providers, practitioners and staff with responding to ethical challenges posed by the pandemic. Like ethical guidelines relating to infectious disease that have preceded them, what unites many COVID-19 guidance documents is their dependency on an under-developed approach to bioethical principlism, a normative framework that attempts to guide actions based on a list of prima facie, unranked ethical principles. By situating them in relation to the key philosophical debates concerning bioethical principlism, we aim to explore the limits and limitations of pandemic ethical guidance documents as, specifically, ethics documents – documents that fulfil the functions of ethics as a fundamentally normative discipline. This means not only determining whether such ethical guidance documents can, in principle, provide adequate action guidance and action justification, but also, more importantly where pandemics are concerned, determining whether they support consistent decision making and transparent processes of justification. Having highlighted the problems with merely furnishing ethical guidelines with substantive ethical content in terms of principles and values, we argue that organizations that develop these documents should, instead, focus on the procedural dimensions of action guidance and action justification, which extend to questions regarding the make-up of the committees, panels and groups that develop such guidelines, the public transparency of justifications for specific pandemic-related advice or interventions and the development of explicit procedures for transparent and consistent decision making.
Keywords COVID-19  Pandemic Ethics  principlism  ethical guidelines  ethics expert  Rawls  WHO  public health ethics
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