The healthcare worker at risk during the COVID-19 pandemic: a Jewish ethical perspective

Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (7):441-443 (2020)
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Abstract

The current COVID-19 pandemic has raised many questions and dilemmas for modern day ethicists and healthcare providers. Are physicians, nurses and other healthcare workers morally obligated to put themselves in harm’s way and treat patients during a pandemic, occurring a great risk to themselves, their families and potentially to other patients? The issue was relevant during the 1918 influenza epidemic and more recently severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2003. Since the risk to the healthcare workers was great, there was tension between the ethical duty and responsibility to treat and the risk to one’s own life. This tension was further noted during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that left hundreds of healthcare workers dead. The AMA Code of Ethics states that physicians are to ‘provide urgent medical care during disasters…even in the face of greater than usual risk to physicians’ own safety, health or life.’1 Classic Jewish sources have dealt with this question as well. There is an obligation ‘to not stand by idly when your friends life is in danger’; however, the question arises as to whether there are limits to this obligation? Is one required to risk one’s own life to save another’s? There is a consensus that one is not required but the question open to debate is whether it is praiseworthy to do so. However, regarding healthcare workers, there is agreement for ethical, professional and societal reasons that they are required to put themselves in harm’s way to care for their patients.

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