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Doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic: what are their duties and what is owed to them?
  1. Stephanie B Johnson1,
  2. Frances Butcher1,2
  1. 1 Nuffield Department of Population Health, Department of Medicine, Univerity of Oxford Nuffield, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK
  2. 2 Honorary Specialty Registrar in Public Health, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, Oxfordshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Stephanie B Johnson, Nuffield Department of Population Health, Nuffield Department of Medicine, Univerity of Oxford, Oxford OX3 7LF, UK; stephanie.johnson{at}


Doctors form an essential part of an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We argue they have a duty to participate in pandemic response due to their special skills, but these skills vary between different doctors, and their duties are constrained by other competing rights. We conclude that while doctors should be encouraged to meet the demand for medical aid in the pandemic, those who make the sacrifices and increased efforts are owed reciprocal obligations in return. When reciprocal obligations are not met, doctors are further justified in opting out of specific tasks, as long as this is proportionate to the unmet obligation.

  • health personnel
  • clinical ethics
  • ethics
  • public health ethics

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  • SBJ and FB contributed equally.

  • Correction notice This paper has been updated since first published to revise funding statement.

  • Contributors Both authors coconceived the project and contributed equally to the drafting and writing of the manuscript. Both authors approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust [Grant numbers 203132/Z/16/Z and 217706/Z/19/Z].

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement There are no data in this work.

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