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Political Bioethics & COVID-19

The London Interdisciplinary School
06 July 2020
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20 mins read

Read this short article ‘The Government’s reaction to BAME deaths tells us everything we already knew about our society’​ in which the authors, two frontline NHS doctors, raise the disturbing question of whether racism underlies some of the UK’s response to the pandemic, given that BAME people are significantly more likely than other people to die from the disease. For the background to this, read Stuart Franklin’s illustrated essay ‘The quality of mercy: COVID-19 in the UK’​. Franklin is a photojournalist (famous for his iconic image of a protestor standing in front of a tank near Tiananmen Square).

Watch these six very short animations. Each of them deals with an aspect of ethical thinking that might contribute to our thinking about the pandemic. You’ll probably want to watch them at least twice through to be sure you have grasped the key points, particularly if these topics are new to you. As you watch, think about how the main ideas explored in the animation might be relevant to the situation we find ourselves in today.

On political bioethics

First, watch this short video interview with James Wilson​ on the Philosophy of Public Health. As you watch, pay particular attention to what he says on the question of whether health can be a human right, something that might seem unlikely. Wilson clarifies why he believes that health is a human right. At the end of the video, he stresses the need for ethicists ‘to understand the underlying science and to work across boundaries’ if they are going to give effective policy advice.

Now listen to this 20-minute interview​ with Jonathan Wolff​ on the topic of Political Bioethics. In particular, focus on what he says about cost-benefit analysis and justifications for particular patterns of distribution of scarce healthcare resources. This is very relevant to the current situation. Political Bioethics is not a pure single subject area – rather it is intrinsically interdisciplinary, drawing on the areas of healthcare economics and political theory as well as philosophy. It is also informed by medical science.



Take it further:

If you want to find out more about philosophical ethics, Michael Sandel’s Harvard University lecture course Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? provides an interesting and lively introduction – some of the topics he discusses should already be familiar to you after this week of the course. The videos of this Justice course are all on YouTube. Michael Sandel has also published a book based on this series.

John Broome​ is both a philosopher and an economist. In this 14-minute audio interview, he discusses the delicate issue of weighing lives against each other when there are scare resources and in conditions of uncertainty.

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