Liability in the Time of Coronavirus: The Ethical Necessity of Expanding the Legal Protections Afforded to Healthcare Workers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

October 1, 2021
Edition: Fall 2021
Volume: 36
Issue: 2
Article: 2

Table of Contents


Although discussions have begun regarding the ways in which healthcare providers and individuals in fields adjacent to healthcare might be exposed to legal sanctions involving COVID-19, the complete scope of the legal risks is still largely unknown. This essay explores how current laws in the United States fail to offer adequate protections: (1) to healthcare workers (HCW) practicing under significantly altered standards of care, and (2) to individuals involved in the allocation of scarce resource decision-making process. Using research on Second Victim Syndrome and Medical Malpractice Stress Syndrome, legal protections are presented to provide HCW a form of “moral buffering” to help prevent further traumatizing them for shouldering extraordinary burdens during the COVID-19 pandemic. In so doing, this article advocates for the passage of appropriate legal protection as not merely a legal issue, but also an ethical one.

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About the Authors

Affiliation: Maria Howard, Ph.D. is currently an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University in Spokane, WA. She earned her Doctorate in Philosophy and Masters in Philosophy from Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, IL) and her Bachelor of Arts from Roanoke College (Salem, VA). Her primary areas of research are philosophy of suicide, ethics at end of life, and the intersection of public health ethics and end of life issues. She serves as an Ethicist on Spokane County’s Disaster Clinical Advisory Committee, the Crisis Standard of Care Clinical Regional Triage Team for Eastern Washington, and for the Spokane County’s Regional Health District Ethics Committee.
Affiliation: Pamela S. Kohlmeier, M.D., J.D., FACEP is a Lecturer for the Master of Public Health Program at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, WA; is dually licensed as a physician and an attorney in the State of Washington; and is a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. She earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (Omaha, NE), Juris Doctorate magna cum laude from Gonzaga School of Law (Spokane, WA), and Bachelor of Science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is co-chair of Spokane County’s Disaster Clinical Advisory Committee and the Crisis Standard of Care Clinical Regional Triage Team for Eastern Washington. She is also the attorney member of the Spokane Regional Health District Ethics Committee.