Beyond Duty: Medical “Heroes” and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Wendy Lipworth
J Bioeth Inq.
National Center for Biotechnology Information
Publication Year:
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When infectious disease outbreaks strike, health facilities acquire labels such as “war zones” and “battlefields” and healthcare professionals become “heroes” on the “front line.” But unlike soldiers, healthcare professionals often take on these dangerous roles without any prior intention or explicit expectation that their work will place them in grave personal danger. This inevitably raises questions about their role-related obligations and whether they should be free to choose not to endanger themselves. In this article, I argue that it is helpful to view this situation not only through the lens of “professional duty” but also through the lens of “role-related conflicts.” Doing so has the advantage of avoiding exceptionalism and allowing us to draw lessons not only from previous epidemics but also from a wide range of far more common role-related dilemmas in healthcare.


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