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COVID-19 current controversies
  1. Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby
  1. Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX 77030, USA; Jennifer.blumenthal-barby{at}bcm.edu

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This July 2020 issue of JME introduces a new section, “COVID-19 Current Controversies,” which will be a recurring section in each issue for the foreseeable future. This issue reflects on some of the most pressing ethical issues that have arisen roughly 6 months into the pandemic.

Kathleen Liddell and colleagues examine important legal considerations at play in ventilator allocation decisions raised by the pandemic.1 They point out that ethics-based triage protocols that argue from the principle of “saving the most lives” by withholding or withdrawing ventilators from certain patients could violate the law (U.K. and elsewhere). Patients’ legal rights are not suspended during this crisis, they remind us. The mere action of ventilator removal (extubation and proning) may constitute battery without consent, for example. Moreover, there may be problems with “evidentiary weakness” in some of the prognostic models used to inform such decisions. And, decisions that are inconsistent, subjective, and/or discriminatory may be deemed illegal. Those developing policies need to consider and consult various areas of law including criminal law (eg, murder, battery, negligence, manslaughter), human rights law, civil law (eg, battery, negligence, duty of care, consent), public and administrative law (eg, discrimination, case law), law on decision-making for incapacitated adults, professional regulations, and derogations from current law (eg, immunities and indemnities). Liddell et al offer 10 concrete, legally informed recommendations for those developing triage-policies to consider.

Michael Parker and colleagues take on the issue of contact tracing using mobile apps and point out that such apps can enable people to emerge more safely from lockdowns, which provides a strong autonomy-based argument in favour …

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