Institute Develops Ethics Framework for Decision-makers Addressing COVID - National Ethics Project

Deering Hall has served as home for the Berman Institute of Bioethics since 2011

The pandemic fractured normal life, creating a call to action for the public-facing Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. By the end of May, the Institute had issued a white paper, An Ethics Framework for the COVID-19 Reopening Process, to aid decision-makers from small business owners to governmental leaders at the local, state and national levels.

Dr. Justin Bernstein, lead author, former post-doctoral fellow at the Institute and current Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Florida Atlantic University, said that the authors pivoted to focus on helping policymakers articulate and address difficult ethical trade-offs caused by COVID-19.

They recognized the need to put moral complexity front and center, especially given polarization in public discussions of shutdowns and reopening. As an example, epidemiological benefits of school closures should be balanced against the lack of supervision and loss of resources that some children face if they remain home from school. Bernstein said that recognizing this impact on children is essential to identifying “ways to relieve the unfair burdens that they face.” What’s most important, he said, is that four ethical values—well-being, liberty, justice, and legitimacy—inform the decision-making process.

Since publication, the white paper has been widely distributed among researchers and policymakers; the Institute’s framework has been used for recommendations to the CDC on vaccine allocation and distribution, and is being cited in a forthcoming World Health Organization report.

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