Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (7):432-435 (2020)

Authors
Udo Schüklenk
Queen's University
Abstract
Healthcare professionals’ capacity to protect themselves, while caring for infected patients during an infectious disease pandemic, depends on their ability to practise universal precautions. In turn, universal precautions rely on the availability of personal protective equipment. During the SARS-CoV2 outbreak many healthcare workers across the globe have been reluctant to provide patient care because crucial PPE components are in short supply. The lack of such equipment during the pandemic was not a result of careful resource allocation decisions in the global north, where the short supply could be explained through their high cost. Instead, they were the result of democratically elected governments prioritising low tax regimes over an adequate resourcing of their healthcare delivery systems. Such decisions were made despite global health experts warning about the high probability of pandemics like SARS-CoV2 occurring during our lifetimes. Avoidable allocation decisions by democratically elected political leaders resulted in a lack of sufficient PPE for healthcare professionals. After discussing and discounting various ethical arguments in support of a professional obligation to treat, even without or with suboptimal PPE, I conclude that these policy decisions were sufficiently grave that they provide a sound ethical rationale to justify healthcare workers’ refusal to provide care to infected patients.
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DOI 10.1136/medethics-2020-106278
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COVID-19 Current Controversies.Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby - 2020 - Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (7):419-420.

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