New book by UAB professor explores bioethical dilemmas posed by COVID-19 – News
In his latest book, “Pandemic Bioethics,” philosophy professor Greg Pence, Ph.D., examines the allocation of scarce medical resources, immune passports, vaccines, discrimination and more. It is now available as an eBook and will be in print on June 18.
Written by: Haley Herfurth
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton
Greg Pence, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Alabama in the Birmingham Department of Philosophy, has published his latest book, “Pandemic Bioethics,” which provides readers with a comprehensive timeline of the various ethical challenges faced when the coronavirus has emerged and ravaged globally. The book serves as a resource to educate healthcare professionals, government officials, and the general public on assessing the ethical issues surrounding public health crises.
Pence says that when the city of Wuhan, China quarantined 11 million people in January 2020 after the outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus, he knew something big was going to happen. He told his students that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that would cause what would be known around the world as COVID-19, would likely be an “epic” historic event.
“Even a relative I met asked me if I thought the virus would come to Alabama,” Pence said. “I said, ‘Yes, it will.’ ”
COVID-19 has hit Alabama hard, resulting in more than 541,000 diagnosed cases and 11,000 deaths to date. But for Pence, a philosophy professor who has studied bioethics since the 1970s, it brought something more: the chance to explore what he sees as the most important bioethical problem for a century.
Pence has compiled his research in his new book, “Pandemic Bioethics,” which examines relevant issues such as the equitable distribution of scarce medical resources, immune passports, vaccinations, discrimination against minorities and more. It’s available from Broadview Press as an eBook now on the Google Play Store and other vendors in the coming weeks and in print starting June 18.
The book opens with explorations of historic pandemics such as the Spanish flu of 1918 and modern viral pandemics such as HIV and the swine flu epidemics in 1976 and 2009, then examines SARS2 viruses, containment methods, vaccines, privacy, structural inequalities and leadership, as well as envisioning a future shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many bioethical issues are esoteric, such as the question ‘Who gets a heart transplant? “But this virus, and how to deal with it, has made everyone a bioethicist,” Pence said. “There are tons of philosophical issues in tackling this virus and shaping public policy, and I wanted to make sure they were brought to the fore. ”
Some of the most pressing questions posed by COVID-19 that Pence addresses in the book’s focus on its long-term effects on population health, the emergence of viral variants, and the impact of US leadership on decision-making in public health during the pandemic.
Vaccine development and implementation also poses unique challenges, Pence says, from the emergency use authorization process by the United States Food and Drug Administration to mandatory vaccinations, to distribution to underserved populations. and what he calls “status certificates”.
“While 32 million people are known to have been infected with COVID-19, with perhaps an additional 32 million infected but unconscious, the United States has a large number of citizens who have already been exposed, and therefore antibodies . 160 million more people have full or partial immunization status, ”Pence said. “An app or document will be needed to cover all of these Americans.”
Pence says calling it a vaccination passport or vaccination certificate doesn’t work for unvaccinated Americans who have been exposed but have the appropriate antibodies. But these antibodies will wear off over time, especially in older people, and some vaccine-induced antibodies may wear off faster than others. Even the term certificate of immunity doesn’t work because it won’t be an all-or-nothing thing, but rather a matter of degree. The term certificate of status will be necessary to cover all these possibilities.
Pence says he hopes readers of “Pandemic Bioethics” will learn some key lessons. “First, beware of victims blaming those who have been or are infected with COVID-19,” Pence said. Discrimination against overweight people of color who have contracted COVID-19 is one example he cites.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that some racial and ethnic minority groups face multiple barriers to healthcare, such as lack of insurance, transportation, childcare, or the ability to be absent. work.
“Consistently linking deaths from COVID to an individual’s weight, high blood pressure, or other health conditions can be a code for ‘Well they deserve what they get for their unhealthy lifestyle “” said Pence. “We have to be very careful about this. “
He also hopes people are more aware of what he calls “amplification systems” or overcrowded and busy places such as airports or mass food production sites that can amplify the spread of germs.
“We live in a very interconnected world,” Pence said. “We assume everything is safe, inspected and regulated, but a lot of these systems have collapsed over the past few decades due to deregulation.”
The third lesson, according to Pence, is that we need to start preparing for the coming pandemics, which begins with improving public health systems in the United States and around the world.
“We weren’t ready this time, and we have to be ready next time,” Pence said.
When Pence puts on his philosopher’s hat, he thinks everyone who has lived through the COVID-19 pandemic has been fundamentally changed, from students who realized they preferred an online education experience to people who would rather work remotely. rather than in a traditional office. Even something as casual as dating could undergo procedural changes such as discussing vaccination status before dating, he explains.
At UAB, students have expressed interest in learning more about pandemics and how these events may affect the future. This summer, Pence is once again teaching PUH 690, “Ethical and Political Issues of Pandemics”. The first iteration was taught in the summer semester of 2020 when the pandemic was fairly new. The course follows a structure similar to “pandemic bioethics”, including spending the first third of the class discussing historical pandemics and issues of ethics, law and public policy.
“With every bioethics issue that I write about, I try to present it in a historical context, whether it is attribution of organs to recipients or AIDS,” Pence explained. “We have already experienced all that with the Spanish flu, with cholera, when we made the victims of AIDS scapegoats. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes – and we made some big mistakes. “