Bioethics met its COVID‐19 Waterloo: The doctor knows best again

Bioethics 35 (1):3-5 (2021)
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The late Robert Veatch, one of the United States’ founders of bioethics, never tired of reminding us that the paradigm-shifting contribution that bioethics made to patient care was to liberate patients out of the hands of doctors, who were traditionally seen to know best, even when they decidedly did not know best. It seems to us that with the advent of COVID-19, health policy has come full-circle on this. COVID-19 gave rise to a large number of purportedly “ethical” guidance documents aiming to assist health care providers and practitioners with responding to the ethical challenges that might arise in their response to the pandemic. Ethics has two primary functions: provide clear action guidance, and provide clear action justification. The documents in question arguably reflect the ultimate policy triumph of bioethical “principlism”, and, perhaps surprisingly, as a corollary, the ultimate triumph of “doctor-knows-best”.

Author Profiles

Jonathan Lewis
University of Manchester
Udo Schüklenk
Queen's University


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