Governments and ad hoc committees have been urged to integrate ethical considerations and multidisciplinary approaches in COVID-19 decision-making processes.
Contributing during an international webinar on ethical considerations in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, prominent experts and field practitioners emphasised the important role that national ethics and bioethics committees can play as advisory bodies in shaping holistic approaches and building trust in COVID-19 responses.
More than 250 participants from around the world took part in the webinar held on 18th May 2020. Professor Peter-Paul Verbeek, Chair of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology; Professor Ames Dhai, Chair of the South Africa National Bioethics Committee; Professor Joseph Mfutso Bengo, Chair of the Malawi National Bioethics Committee; and Professor Gyonggu Shin, Human Rights and International Advisor to Gwangju City in the Republic of Korea, were among the participating experts.
Held as part of the “Inclusion in the time of COVID-19” webinar series, the meeting analysed how ethical frameworks can advise and guide decision-makers and professionals who are in the frontline in fighting the pandemic.
There is an urgent need for governments to anticipate the unforeseen consequences of containment measures on the most vulnerable. Article 8 of the UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights stipulates that in applying and advancing scientific knowledge, medical practice and associated technologies, human vulnerability, dignity and integrity should be taken into account. In this context, the national ethics and bioethics committees play a unique role in fostering public multidisciplinary reasoning on complex questions raised by the pandemic, and ensuring that there are no blind spots in policymakers’ view.
Digital technologies such as mobile phones, social media, and artificial intelligence can also play a substantial role in dealing with pandemics. They make it possible to monitor, anticipate and influence the spreading of diseases and the behaviour of human beings. However, it is important to make sure that ethical, social and political issues related to the use of these technologies are adequately addressed. Human rights should always be respected, and the values of privacy and autonomy should be carefully balanced with the values of safety and security. Strong democratic and human rights monitoring instances, and citizens’ in-depth consultations and deliberations, must frame and control the use of such technologies.
UNESCO will fully support Member States as they embrace ethical considerations in order to make sure that their recovery from COVID-19 is truly holistic and protective of all – to ensure that we leave no one behind.