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COVID Ethics Series Features Leading Catholic Bioethicist  

Bryan Pilkington 320 picA few weeks into the pandemic, Professor Bryan Pilkington began holding conversations with leading experts from medicine, nursing, and the health sciences, as well as political theorists, economists, philosophers, and legal experts to discuss some of the many ethical issues associated with COVID-19. What began as conversations around challenging topics in a challenging time has blossomed into a series and podcast, which have drawn attention both nationally and internationally.

The first episode of the Covid Ethics Series' fourth season took place last week and featured one of the leading thinkers in Catholic Bioethics, Professor Jason Eberl of Saint Louis University.

In the COVID Ethics Series (CES) episode entitled "Conscience, Vaccines, and the Obligations of Community," Professor Eberl was joined by Seton Hall alum, Rev. Dr. Kirk Johnson (Montclair State, Seton Hall); and Professor Paul Cummins (Clarkson University), who is the co-PI on a collaborative NIH Fogarty International Center R25 grant, "The Caribbean Research Ethics Education Initiative."

Professor Eberl, who has published widely on topics associated with Catholicism and healthcare and recently on ethical issues associated with vaccination, discussed the role of conscience in healthcare decision-making and the importance of a well-formed conscience.

"I'm honored to have been asked by Dr. Bryan Pilkington to participate in the Seton Hall COVID Ethics Series, which throughout the pandemic has illuminated key issues that will continue to influence academic and public discourse for years to come. The other panelists were wonderful interlocutors for unpacking the nuanced concept of conscience as it informs questions regarding vaccine mandates as we collectively pursue the common good," said Eberl.

Traditionally, discussions in applied medical ethics such as this have centered around medical practitioners and patients. Professor Cummins' insight, however, has been to add employers to the mix – thereby acknowledging the pivotal role that large health care systems (as employers) play in the practice of medicine in the United States as well as the key role employers play in the provision of health insurance for patient/employees.

Professor Johnson raised concerns about vaccine hesitance but also noted, however, the misapplication of that notion to minority communities facing vaccine access challenges— and the danger such a misapplication poses as we conflate hesitance with scarcity and perhaps conclude that there is no further work to be done.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has raised and intensified ethical questions about the relationship between individuals and communities. It is important to balance individual conscience and decision-making with the health needs of communities," said Pilkington. Considerations of conscientious objection, vaccine hesitancy, and the role of philosophical and religious concerns in requesting exemptions are all topics that should be addressed by an interdisciplinary group of thinkers from different perspectives, which is who we gathered for this episode," he noted. "The panelists were excellent, and it was especially helpful to have Dr. Eberl's expertise in Catholic bioethics for the members of our Seton Hall Community."

Eberl, who is Professor of Health Care Ethics and Director of the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University, works on the philosophy of human nature and its application to issues at the margins of life, ethical issues related to end-of-life care, genetics, and healthcare resource allocation, as well as the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas. He has recently published The Nature of Human Persons: Metaphysics and Bioethics (University of Notre Dame Press 2020).

Pilkington, an associate professor in the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University and the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine, serves on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy and Christian Bioethics, and has recently edited the special issue of Healthcare Ethics Committee Forum on conscience in healthcare.

CES Archives
The series maintains a robust resource page, led by Allison Piazza of the IHS library, and has created content that has been used in a variety of SHU courses and led to the publication of new research.

The recording of this episode can be found on the IHS website.

Previous series episodes have covered:

  • Unmasking Ethical Foundations in the Time of COVID: What We Owe to Each Other
  • Stop Killing our Patients: Pandemic, Protest and the Outcry for Justice
  • Discrimination Intensified: Equity in the Time of COVID
  • Ethics and Questions of Risk in Healthcare: An Interprofessional Discussion
  • Today and Tomorrow: Prioritizing the Present in the Time of COVID Sports and Recreation in the Time of COVID
  • Intentions and the Limits of Aid: Best Practices in the Fight against COVID
  • Pregnancy and Covid-19: Keeping Mothers Babies Well
  • Lattes and Letters – a student advocacy session
  • Vulnerability and Dependence in the Time of COVID

Categories: Health and Medicine

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