A “Twitter Chat” About COVID-19: Ethical Dilemmas in a Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is highlighting ethical issues for everyday citizens and healthcare workers. The public health has become more important than ever. Information is changing, sometimes faster than it’s spreading. Twitter has proven a highly effective way to spread science and evidence-based news among medical providers and public health experts.

In January, I agreed to host a monthly ethics “Twitter chat” with MedPage Today, a medical news site. I would use the chats to highlight ethics experts on various topics. It would be a fun way to do something lightly academic with my friends in the bioethics world. Alison Bateman-House joined me on access to unapproved drugs and Josephine Johnston on germline genome editing.

Originally, the March chat was supposed to be on medical aid in dying, with legal ethics expert Thaddeus Pope, of Mitchell Hamline School of Law. But as the COVID-19 outbreak’s approach became more apparent, early last week I asked Thad if he would consider pivoting to discuss this emergent situation. He graciously agreed to delay his chat, and quickly put me in touch with his colleague Lindsay Wiley, a public health ethics and law expert at American University. I also reached out to another public health ethics and law professor, Daniel Goldberg, at Colorado University. I couldn’t be happier to have two such knowledgeable experts on hand during this pandemic!

Join Professors Wiley, Goldberg, and me this Wednesday, March 18 at 1pm Pacific Time (Time Zone Conversions) by following @MedPageToday, #EthicsMPT, @ProfLWiley, @prof_goldberg, and @BurgartBioethix.

Some questions we’ll discuss with participants include:

  • What are the most important public health ethics lessons learned from previous disease outbreaks, like SARS and Ebola?
  • What are some ways employers can effectively manage the COVID-19 crisis to keep healthcare workers at the bedside caring for patients?
  • What government responses to COVID-19 have been effective in terms of preventing spread? What responses have been problematic?
  • How can government responses to COVID-19 diminish stigma and racism against marginalized groups, especially people of Asian descent?
  • Restrictions on individuals and businesses are being used to prevent spread. What are the effects of these types of mandatory orders?
  • We have heard healthcare workers may have to “decide who lives and dies” due to a lack of hospital beds and other equipment. How can we address this?

Thousands of clinicians, hospitals, public health teams, and governments are reasoning through pandemic ethical issues daily. I hope that forums like this will provide a way to reason through some of these issues together in real time.

Note: Following chats on twitter can be a little challenging. Help our experts see your ethics questions and comments by using the #EthicsMPT hashtag in every post. Consider using TweetDeck to follow the #EthicsMPT to follow along.

 

Image Credit: metamorworks – Getty Images

 

About the Author(s)

Alyssa Burgart, MD, MA

Dr. Alyssa Burgart is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Stanford University. In addition to her work as an anesthesiologist, Dr. Burgart is a clinical ethicist, core faculty at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, Co-Chair of the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Ethics Committee, and ethics consultant at both Packard and Stanford Hospitals. Follow her on Twitter (@BurgartBioethix).