Learn About Bioethics in Worst Case Scenarios

Written by: The Exchange

Catastrophic events quickly challenge fundamental assumptions about how we live and what we take for granted. This has been especially evident as we witness health systems around the world pushed to their limits in the wake of unprecedented strains caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Mounting examples of critical shortages in life-saving medical equipment, ICU and hospital beds, and blood products, as well as protective equipment for first responders and frontline healthcare workers make it clear how dire the situation can get… and how quickly. These shortages have resulted in the need for triage decisions that developed countries have only previously experienced during wartime. We now face daunting ethical challenges requiring difficult decisions in the days ahead. Join our expert panelists who are working round the clock to create a framework that balances the ethics of scarce resource allocation, public input on how to prioritize the members of their communities, and the nearly real-time work being carried out in hospitals. This is a tall order that has real-world consequences. But current events demand that we have plans for deciding, quite literally, who will live and who will die.

The Johns Hopkins map that tracks COVID-19 cases can be found here.


Jeffrey Kahn is the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. He works in a variety of areas of bioethics, exploring the intersection of ethics and health/science policy, including human and animal research ethics, public health, and ethical issues in emerging biomedical technologies.

Cynda Rushton is the Anne and George L. Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics in the Berman Institute of Bioethics and the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University. An international leader in nursing ethics, her current scholarship in clinical ethics focuses on moral distress and suffering of clinicians, the development of moral resilience, designing a culture of ethical practice, and conceptual foundations of integrity, respect, trust and compassion.

Yoram Unguru is s a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with joint faculty appointments at The Herman and Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai and The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. His scholarship and publications have focused on the role of children and providers in facilitating shared decision-making, end-of-life decision-making, allocation of scarce lifesaving medications, and ethics education.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.