Nuffield Council on Bioethics publishes coronavirus ethics guide

Bioethicists are battling to produce guidelines for politicians and policy-makers in a puzzling time. The UK’s Nuffield Council on Bioethics has produced a document which offers ethical guidance based on a sound knowledge of the dynamics of the disease.

Public health measures need to take into account the following ethical principles, it says:

• Interventions should be evidence-based and proportionate. The aim(s) of the interventions being implemented, and the science, values and judgments underpinning those interventions, should be clearly communicated to the public.

• Coercion and intrusion into people’s lives should be the minimum possible consistent with achieving the aim sought.

• People should be treated as moral equals, worthy of respect. While individuals may be asked to make sacrifices for the public good, the respect due to individuals should never be forgotten in the way in which interventions such as quarantine and self-isolation are implemented.

• Solidarity is crucial: at the international level, between governments; in support from the state for those bearing the costs of interventions; by businesses in how they exercise their corporate social responsibility; and at the individual level in the way we all respond to the outbreak in day-to-day life.

For an amplified explanation of these principles, download this document: Ethical considerations in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another, briefer, document addresses civil liberties issues.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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