HT24 Week 4 Internal Uehiro Seminar

Justification and limits to the duty to care

Abstract: During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw cases that prompted questions about the adherence of healthcare professionals to their duty in treating patients and the boundaries of that responsibility. Instances emerged where healthcare personnel refused to attend to individuals displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or who were absent from their clinical duties due to fear of infection. Several theories have been proposed to justify a duty to treat highly contagious patients and even at the risk of one’s own health and life. I examine different ways in which the duty to treat can be justified, based on the most common justifications that have been offered in the literature on the duty to treat: a) principle of beneficence, b) explicit and implicit consent, c) special training, d) reciprocity or social contract, e) the virtues of healthcare workers, f) professional codes and oaths. The contention is that none of these justifications alone provides a sufficiently robust basis for establishing a duty to treat. This implies that healthcare professionals operating under emergency conditions may be going above and beyond the call of duty. Additionally, this examination delves into some of the limitations of this duty. They do not seem to be given by the level of risk or the fatality rate of the disease that the healthcare worker faces, but by competing duties that he or she previously had (to their families or even to themselves, if we allow for talk about duties to oneself). Finally, I argue that a duty to treat is contingent on the conditions under which they carry out their duties, including the personal protective equipment (PPE) provided by their institutions. In this context, the duty to treat is contingent on the preparedness of the State, the healthcare system, or their institutions to effectively respond to an emergency.

Speaker: Professor Gustavo Ortiz-Millán (OUC Academic Visitor; Research-professor, Institute of Philosophical Research, National Autonomous University of Mexico)

A hybrid event for Uehiro Centre Members and Associates (booking not required). 

In-person venue: Oxford Uehiro Centre, Suite 1 Seminar Area, Littlegate House, 16-17 St Ebbe’s Street, Oxford OX1 1PT (buzzer 1)
Zoom: Joining link available from the Centre's Internal Google Calendar, or on request from