In medical science, one of the most important aspects is that of bioethics which must be integrated into day-to-day practice to guide an ethical pathway that may always not be clearly outlined. These ethical endeavors are often challenged in case of emergencies and crises, thereby testing the general rules and principles of ethics. In such emergency scenarios where the magnitude of impact is at a large scale, medical professionals often strive to do as much good as possible. The COVID-19 pandemic has defied the medical ethics that are practiced within the luxury of ample resources and time. Due to its global spread and frequently dreadful encounters, the issues of bioethics have arisen regardless of the country of residence or resource availability. It has united the discordant world towards a singular goal of saving lives.
Summary of the Issue
Various bioethical issues have surfaced with the global spread of COVID-19 and these challenges are faced not only by the healthcare systems but also by clinicians and researchers. The extraordinary influx of patients in the intensive care units (ICU) has raised concerns not only about prioritizing treatment but also about the decision to withdraw life support. The ethical dilemma extends to decisions about allowing family visits and the provision of quality end-of-life facilities. Patient prioritization, as masses become infected each day, has posed an ethical dispute as to who should be treated first. Medical professionals have debated whether treatment should be prioritized based on the severity of the condition, order of sickness, or the financial influence exerted by the families.
The spread of COVID-19 has encompassed countries all over the world. The pressures employed by this pandemic on health care systems have been severe even for well-resourced nations whereas the poor countries have crumbled under the challenges posed by this virus. In such contrasting situations, the suitability of a singular framework or ethical guideline cannot be attained. Also, the burden added by the pandemic raises issues of prioritizing patients in need of critical care due to other illnesses. These issues among many others must be thoroughly considered and discussed as the major emerging ethical themes include ethics of treatment for COVID-19 patients, medical integrity related to limited resource allocation, the difference in approaches adopted by various countries, vaccine allocation, and provision, and issues of data protection and sharing.
Implications and Importance
The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare systems are wide-ranging. The massive influx of patients forced medical professionals to modify the admission criteria due to the shortage of beds in the ICU. This raises ethical implications of increased risk of mortality for patients and adoption of secondary actions such as delayed admission or transference to another unit which may be distant or less specialized thereby sacrificing the ones who are most vulnerable. Rationing of scarce resources that are used for critical care during the pandemic is governed by policies that are different in terms of institution, healthcare system, and law. The foremost consideration is the patient’s ability to recover from the treatment administered and to survive. However, a lack of concrete clinical measures to determine the impact of treatment gives rise to ethical challenges (Robert, et al., 2020). The pandemic has not only laid bare the structural weaknesses of the healthcare systems but has also highlighted systematic racism and inequality, that gives rise to bioethical concerns from admission in ICUs to resource allocation and vaccine provision. It is important to address these issues and set specific guidelines to ensure that the less privileged countries, members of racial minorities, and those living in poor settings are saved from disproportionate exposure to the virus and ultimately provided facilities that the privileged might experience.
Robert, R., Kentish-Barnes, N., Boyer, A., Laurent, A., Azoulay, E., & Reignier, J. (2020). Ethical dilemmas due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Annals of Intensive Care, 10(84).