Ethics of sharing medical knowledge with the community: is the physician responsible for medical outreach during a pandemic?

Journal of Medical Ethics 46 (11):732-735 (2020)
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Abstract

A recent update to the Geneva Declaration’s ‘Physician Pledge’ involves the ethical requirement of physicians to share medical knowledge for the benefit of patients and healthcare. With the spread of COVID-19, pockets exist in every country with different viral expressions. In the Chareidi religious community, for example, rates of COVID-19 transmission and dissemination are above average compared with other communities within the same countries. While viral spread in densely populated communities is common during pandemics, several reasons have been suggested to explain the blatant flouting of public health regulations. It is easy to fault the Chareidi population for their proliferation of COVID-19, partly due to their avoidance of social media and internet aversion. However, the question remains: who is to blame for their community crisis? The ethical argument suggests that from a public health perspective, the physician needs to reach out and share medical knowledge with the community. The public’s best interests are critical in a pandemic and should supersede any considerations of cultural differences. By all indications, therefore, the physician has an ethical obligation to promote population healthcare and share medical knowledge based on ethical concepts of beneficence, non-maleficence, utilitarian ethics as well as social, procedural and distributive justice. This includes the ethical duty to reduce health disparities and convey the message that individual responsibility for health has repercussions within the context of broader social accountability. Creative channels are clearly demanded for this ethical challenge, including measured medical paternalism with appropriate cultural sensitivity in physician community outreach.

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