Justice, fairness and medical ethics seen through the lens of COVID-19

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Considering questions of justice and fairness in medical ethics through the lens of COVID-19, including triage of patients and balancing the rights of individuals against those of the wider population.

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Free for members and non-members

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Questions of justice and/or fairness are a fundamental part of medical practice and policy. Along with respect for autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence, justice is one of the values that comprise the “four principles” approach to medical ethics, widely favoured by doctors as an accessible and practical method of tackling problems in clinical practice.

In the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic, described by the WHO as the most severe global health emergency it has ever declared, has brought longstanding questions and concerns about justice and medical ethics to the fore.

How should patients be triaged to receive priority treatment? How do we appropriately balance the rights of individuals with the need to protect the health of the wider population when they conflict? What do we mean by the fair and just distribution and deployment of scarce health service resources and how should we implement these?


This half-day, virtual BMA conference, chaired by the immediate past president of the BMA Professor Raanan Gillon, will explore these key questions through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. The event is hosted by the BMA’s medical ethics and human rights department as part of Professor Gillon’s project on justice and fairness as BMA president 2019-20.

Across two separate sessions, with time built in for audience participation, five speakers will address the tension between our medical duties to individual patients and our duties of fairness to others, and the allocation of scarce health care resources as seen from the perspectives of clinical practice (Dr Iona Heath, Dr Chris Danbury), public health (Professor Peter Littlejohns), medical law (Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery), and health economics (Professor Joanna Coast).

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The conference is free of charge to attend and open to all BMA members and others with a specific interest in medical ethics. Places are limited and will be allocated with a view to reflecting a balance of perspectives from across the profession.

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BMA conferences