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In this series, we ask bioethicists to respond to a question that embodies current challenges for bioethics, medicine, or health care. In this blog, bioethicists were asked to share their thoughts on “Now That The Pfizer Vaccine Has Full FDA Approval, What Does This Mean For The Covid-19 Pandemic?” Here are their responses:

Vivian V. Altiery De Jesus, MD, MBE and Shika Kalevor MBE, BSN, RN

Vivian V. Altiery De Jesus

Approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine by the Federal Food Administration (FDA) is without doubt a milestone. But is this enough to gain public trust and hopefully eradicate COVID-19 just as the world eradicated smallpox? …

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by Ross E. McKinney, Norma Poll-Hunter and Lisa D. Howley

The following blog is an editorial found in the latest issue of American Journal of Bioethics. You can find it here:

Racism is a complex problem in the US that is institutionalized, personally mediated, and internalized (Jones 2000). Within medical education the recognition and response to structural racism is beginning to take shape in response to COVID-19 and recognition of the nature of anti-Black public acts. The verity of structural racism as a major cause of health-related disparities is clear, as is the need for a framework for understanding and informing medical education to address the problem.…

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By Brian M. Cummings, MD and John J. Paris, SJ, PhD

John Stuart Mill proclaimed, “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”  Mill’s statement appears to come in conflict with public health expert mitigation recommendations. How can we mitigate a pandemic when individual sovereigns chose not to follow these recommendations.  The United States is experiencing a fourth surge of Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations related to the delta variant.  This is despite the profound effectiveness of available vaccines in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death related to Covid-19.   Masks are available to mitigate disease spread, yet remain controversial.  Media attention on expected ‘breakthrough’ infections provokes doubt about vaccination, endorsing hesitancy.  The…

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By Jennifer L Young, PhD, Julia E H Brown, PhD, Nicole Martinez-Martin, JD, PhD 

In a small but significant change of the tide, Britney Spears has been granted permission to have her own lawyer, to pursue her request to end her 13-year long conservatorship under the hands of her father. This has sparked a reassessment of the ethics of conservatorships, or legal guardianships, and how to distinguish between what Spears described as “conservatorship abuse” and a moral obligation to protect vulnerable people. 

After Britney Spears was hospitalized multiple times in 2008 for an unspecified mental health condition, her father filed for a conservatorship, ostensibly to protect her from causing harm to herself because of her deteriorating mental state.…

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By George J. Annas and Sondra S. Crosby

This editorial can be found in the latest issue of American Journal of Bioethics.

Lowering the standard of care in a pandemic is a recipe for inferior care and discrimination. Wealthy white patients will continue to get “standard of care” medicine, while the poor and racial minorities (especially black and brown people) will get what is openly described as substandard care rationalized by the assertion that substandard care is all that we can deliver to them in a crisis. (IOM 2009) Paul Farmer’s experience in responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a shocking, if extreme, example of how dangerous to patients this practice is.…

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by Keisha Ray, PhD

Originally presented at “Race and Bioethics: Amplifying Diverse Voices,” sponsored by Columbia University Bioethics. See it here: link

My co-panelists and I have been tasked with thinking about the ways that bioethics does, or in most cases, does not consider issues of race, including racism, and systemic health inequities. Although I am very happy to have this opportunity to speak about bioethics because it is something very dear to me, and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, this opportunity feels like another moment where a bioethicist of color has to defend her work, her place in bioethics, and hope that White bioethicists see the value of her work and the value of Black bioethicists.…

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by G.M. Trujillo, Jr., Ph.D.

Critics and academics laud Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness. But unlike many academic works, it caught public attention. Metzl toured the country to give talks, and white supremacists even tried to shut down one of his events. The book deserves the praise. It enables readers to grasp that no one is immune from the ills of racism, even white people. The book’s thesis is simple: “a host of complex anxieties prompt increasing numbers of white Americans … to support right-wing politicians and policies, even when these policies actually harm white Americans at growing rates.…

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Original art and artist’s blurbs are presented in collaboration with the students of the University of Illinois Chicago program in Biomedical Visualization. 

by Sydney Agger, BA

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) has shown promise as a diagnostic tool for individuals with depression, I wanted to create an illustration that evoked the feeling behind the ethical challenges described by Laacke et al. in his article about AI, social media, and depression. Throughout the process of creating this illustration my main goal was to maintain a sense of uneasiness between the figure being observed and their shadowy observer. Regardless of the AI figure’s good intentions, its presence feels intrusive as it makes observations without the seated individual’s explicit knowledge or permission.…

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by Nathan Nobis PhD

In a June 14, 2021 opinion essay in the Wall Street Journal, physician-ethicist Aaron Kheriaty and law professor Gerard V. Bradley argue that “University Vaccine Mandates Violate Medical Ethics” (archived version). Their core claim is that requiring college students to be vaccinated for COVID treats these students as “mere means,” using them like “guinea pigs” for the potential benefit of others, and that’s unethical.

As a medical ethicist, I want to explain why college vaccination requirements decidedly do not violate the core principles of medical ethics which include avoiding or lessening harms, promoting benefits, respecting people and their informed and free choices, and promoting justice and fairness.…

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by Keisha Ray PhD and Jane Cooper MBE

One of the inequities to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic is an increase in the disproportionate effects of environmental toxins on poor people and/or people of color. Additionally, during the pandemic Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people disproportionately experienced higher rates of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths from the virus. New research, however, has revealed a link between air pollution and likelihood of death from Covid-19; people who live in highly polluted areas are more likely to die once they have the Covid-19 virus. Given that poor people and people of color are more likely to live in polluted areas than wealthy and White people, and they are more likely to be infected and die from the Covid-19 virus, environmental toxins are one of the many obstacles to equitable health independent of race and wealth status. …

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