How do we decide? Ethics of the COVID-19 pandemic

A fatigued health care worker takes a moment outside a hospital.
A fatigued health care worker takes a moment outside the Brooklyn Hospital Center in April.
Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t just testing our medicine. It’s testing our morals.

In March, public health leaders predicted doctors could be put into the nightmarish situation of determining who got a ventilator, if communities failed to practice social distancing. Now that hospitals have had time to stockpile equipment, medical staff no longer face having to decide that particular question.

But new ethical conundrums are rising up. Is it OK to test an unknown vaccine on human subjects? Once a vaccine is developed, who gets it first? What about hoarding? How do we balance our own freedom against the good of the group?

Thursday on MPR News with Kerri Miller, spoke with two leading bioethicists to help us examine the tough decisions faced by doctors, government leaders and the public. 


  • Jeffrey Kahn is the Andreas C. Dracopoulos director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and a professor of bioethics and public policy in the Department of Health Policy and Management of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

  • Mildred Solomon is president of The Hastings Center and professor of global health and social science at Harvard, where she directs the school's Fellowship in Bioethics.

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