The Hastings Center Report
John Wiley and Sons Inc.
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Chinese Bioethicists Speak Out on Covid‐19, and Others Follow
Volume: 50, Issue: 2
DOI 10.1002/hast.1091
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Abstract

Shortly after Wuhan, the city where the novel coronavirus was first identified, was placed on lockdown in January, I received an email from two Hastings Center fellows in China: Renzong Qiu, of Renmin University of China in Beijing, and Ruipeng Lei, of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. Attached was a post for our blog, Hastings Bioethics Forum, that raised ethical and legal questions about China's response. “Hegel says, ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history,’” their piece began. “The recurrence of the coronavirus epidemic in China proves his insight to be right.” This bold report from bioethicists in China was courageous and eye‐opening. It was among the first discussions in bioethics of what has since become a global crisis, and it turned out to be the first in a string of commentaries in Hastings Bioethics Forum with insights about the crisis, the issues it raises, and how the world should respond to it.

Keywords
Gilbert: Chinese Bioethicists Speak Out on Covid‐19, and Others Follow

at the center

Shortly after Wuhan, the city where the novel coronavirus was first identified, was placed on lockdown in January, I received an email from two Hastings Center fellows in China: Renzong Qiu, of Renmin University of China in Beijing, and Ruipeng Lei, of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan. Attached was a post for our blog, Hastings Bioethics Forum, that raised ethical and legal questions about China's response. “Hegel says, ‘We learn from history that we do not learn from history,’” their piece began. “The recurrence of the coronavirus epidemic in China proves his insight to be right.”

They described a lack of transparency—days in January with no reports of new cases—and misinformation, such as a statement from the Wuhan Health Commission that the infection was mild and was not transmitted from person to person. They asserted that “faked, misleading information shifted the public's attention from the epidemic and inhibited the efforts by medical and public health staff to control it.” They further charged that provincial officials may have broken the law—Article 37 of the Law on Infectious Diseases, to be precise, which, they wrote, “stipulates that the relevant departments of the people's government shall not conceal, make false reports, or delay report of the epidemic situation of infectious diseases.”

This bold report from bioethicists in China was courageous and eye‐opening. It was among the first discussions in bioethics of what has since become a global crisis, and it turned out to be the first in a string of commentaries in Hastings Bioethics Forum with insights about the crisis, the issues it raises, and how the world should respond to it.

We now know that poor communication, misinformation, and other shortcomings were not limited to China. In “Covid‐19 and the Global Ethics Freefall,” Sridhar Venkatapuram, a philosopher at King's College in London, called out the United Kingdom in mid‐March for disregarding World Health Organization guidelines to mandate physical distancing and make widespread testing available in favor of a controversial utilitarian approach: creating “herd immunity” by allowing people to become infected and a projected 400,000 of the weakest among them to die. This widely condemned idea was abandoned when the United Kingdom became overwhelmed by infections. In “Flattening the Curve, Then What?,” Hastings Center fellow Mark Rothstein, of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, argued that flattening the curve in the United States—delaying the spread of infection by imposing physical distancing measures—is not a long‐term strategy but, rather, “a short‐term necessity thrust on the nation by our failure to plan for an inevitable public health crisis.” Jeremy Snyder, of Simon Frasier University, reported on the surge in crowdfunding campaigns to meet Covid‐19‐related needs—“a makeshift response to institutional failures and not a fair or sustainable solution to crises.”

A message that most of the Hastings Bioethics Forum posts shared was that governments and institutions around the world need to improve how they plan for the next pandemic. “If we fail to undertake a comprehensive revamping of the nation's public health structure, our society, and not just the curve of infection, will be flattened,” Rothstein wrote. Which brings us back to the first post by Renzong Qiu and Ruipeng Lei, a piece that closes with the hope that it is possible to learn from history and prove Hegel wrong.

https://www.researchpad.co/tools/openurl?pubtype=article&doi=10.1002/hast.1091&title=Chinese Bioethicists Speak Out on Covid‐19, and Others Follow&author=Susan Gilbert,&keyword=novel coronavirus SARS‐CoV‐2,Covid‐19,public health ethics,global ethics,China,&subject=At the Center,Departments,At the Center,