Spring 2021

Public Health Ethics during COVID-19

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-212


Jyl Gentzler (Section 01)


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted significant concerns that have not been prominent in institutional conversations about medical ethics.   At hospitals like our local Cooley-Dickinson Hospital, where shortages of supplies have been rare and where there is a strong ethic of giving the best medical care to all members of the community regardless of their ability to pay, the questions that have typically been taken up by ethics committees have concerned how best to serve individual patients when no great solution is possible, given the frailty of the human body and mind and the variability of family support.  No longer is this the case. The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to reflect upon issues of justice–to think not only about the ethical dilemmas that arise when considering the health and well-being of individual patients and their families, but also the ethical questions that arise when considering the health and well-being of entire communities under conditions of scarcity and economic upheaval.  The pandemic has also shed light on the health disparities by race and socioeconomic status that have been constant features of our country since its founding, but have only recently been widely recognized as urgent matters of ethical concern and action.  Since these disparities are often the result of factors known as the “social determinants of health”– for example, access to education, food, housing, and social respect–public health ethics must broaden its focus beyond questions of access to medical treatment.  In this class, we will consider principles of justice for distributing health care resources, thus broadly conceived, and ask what is owed, in particular, to those whose current health, or prognosis of health, is poor at least in part because of the injustices that they have suffered in the past.  

Limited to 18 students. No prerequisite.  Taught remotely. Spring semester. Professor Gentzler


Attention to Writing, Online Only


2020-21: Offered in Spring 2021