By Serena Montefusco

Since January 2020, the world has been facing a new challenge. Most employees could no longer go to work, most students could no longer attend their school, and most countries faced an economic crisis because of the pandemic. They were forced to be familiar with life during a pandemic. Most of the the world’s population had to stop for a period, the so-called quarantine, for the benefit of the most vulnerable people. Many people came to discover the values of the family, solidarity, and sharing.  At the same time, many people faced hard medical decisions that escalated into ethical debates. Since January 2020, the world has been dealing with the Coronavirus.  Much has been said in the last months about this new virus and our UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights (UNESCOBIOCHAIR) together with the Anáhuac University, Mexico and the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum (APRA), contributed to research and global discussions about the global pandemic by organizing an international two-days webinar entitled “Bioethics during COVID-19” from July 3rd to July 4th 2020. 

Watch the entire video and download the presentations


During the webinar, both international experts in bioethics, philosophy, biomedicine, theology, ethics, and students, gathered in front of their computers for all around the world, engaged in a personalist reflection upon the ethical issues related to the pandemic and its management. Moreover, they discussed the bioethical challenges (clinical, social and political) and the responses of different people and institutions worldwide. During the first afternoon of discussions Prof. P. Joseph Tham, LC, Prof. Laura Palazzani, Prof. Alberto García Gómez, Prof. Lourdes Velázquez, Prof. P. Michael Baggot, LC, and Prof. P. Louis Melahn, LC, intervened with their presentations.

First, Prof. P. Joseph Tham, LC, School of Bioethics (APRA) and Chair fellow (UNESCOBIOCHAIR) gave an overview and conjectures of a Post-COVID future that emphasized the misconception of medicine due to the increased availability and effectiveness of technology. He also reflected upon how scientific knowledge is not really as certain and definitive as the media portrays and that usually takes years of research to arrive at a consensus. In fact, he affirmed that “the changes in our perception makes this epidemic indeed unprecedented.”

Second, Prof. Laura Palazzani, LUMSA University, analyzed the following theories: libertarian theory, utilitarian theory and theories that focus on equality between human beings. She compared conceptual premises and arguments critically, and referred to the main documents of national and international scientific societies and bioethics committees. She assessed the issue of the allocation of health care resources in conditions of scarcity in the context of the bioethical discussion in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic and the question of access to treatment.

Third, Prof. Alberto García Gómez, Director of UNESCOBIOCHAIR, presented the importance of providing an overview of the core ethical values that would help to undertake responsibility for problems and challenges when planning and carrying out research of a new vaccine or new therapeutic drugs.

Fourth, Prof. Lourdes Velázquez, Panamerican University, Mexico, gave a philosophical overview of: human fragility, human impotence, limited efficiency of technoscience, rediscovery of common good and human solidarity, and the incumbent presence of death. She affirmed that “the results of this reflections can point out responsibilities of the political power and produce hostility against philosophers and the effort of silencing their voice, reminding us of the example of Socrates.”

Fifth, Prof. P. Michael Baggot, LC, School of Bioethics (APRA) and Chair fellow (UNESCOBIOCHAIR) and Prof. P. Louis Melahn, LC, School of Bioethics (APRA), examined the arguments for and against the approach of some scholars that advocate that it would be morally acceptable in a crisis to withdraw resources like life support and ICU beds from one patient in favor of another, if, in the judgment of medical personnel, the other patient has a significantly better prognosis. Based upon an analysis according to the principle of double effect, they affirmed that “it is inadmissible to withdraw life-saving medical interventions from patients who are still benefiting from them, on the sole grounds that other patients might benefit more.”

The second afternoon, like the first one, was filled with interesting presentations and discussions. On July 4th, Prof, Marieli de los Ríos, Dr. Lillian Omutoko, Dr. Walter Jaoko, Prof. Fr. Christopher Mahar, Prof. Mariel Kalkash, and Dr. Dafna Feinholz Klip intervened to give their perspectives regarding the pandemic.

First, Prof. Marieli de los Ríos, Anahuac University, Mexico and Research Scholar (UNESCOBIOCHAIR) Dr. Lillian Omutoko and Dr. Walter Jaoko, University of Nairobi, Kenya, presented the “Ethical Criteria Guideline for health emergencies in Mexico in the context of COVID -19 pandemic”.

This document aims at responding to the time of health emergency declared in Mexico March 30th by giving an overview of the situation, the ethical guidelines, and the main terminology in the context of Covid-19.

Second, Prof. Fr. Christopher Mahar, Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. Vatican, spoke of how the care being offered to the sick in this context can be best delivered when it embraces the dignity of every human person as a vital part of the whole human family, seeking always to bring about the common good while respecting the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity with those most vulnerable.

Third, Prof. Mariel Kalkach, Anahuac University, Mexico and Research Scholar (UNESCOBIOCHAIR), presented the “ADD KNOW-ledge to your Decision-Making Practical Guideline 4 Ethical Clinical Decision-Making in Scenarios with Scarce Resources During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The purpose of this guideline is to provide healthcare workers responding to the pandemic with an ethical framework for decision-making. She presented a list of ten recommendations divided into their associations to four words (Ask, Do, Don’t, Know) to help their memorization.

Fourth, Dr. Dafna Feinholz Klip, Chief of the Bioethics and Ethics of Science Section, within UNESCO’s Social and Human Science Sector, presented the work of IBC and COMEST that as international advisory bodies in the field of bioethics and ethics of science and technology, recognize the urgency to go beyond political frontiers, geographical borders, and cultural differences, in order to focus on our common need and shared responsibility to engage in a dialogue to find measures to overcome the dramatic situation. She affirmed that “In such emergencies, the role of bioethics and ethics committees, at national, regional and international levels, is to sustain a constructive dialogue, based on the conviction that political decisions need to be scientifically grounded and ethically inspired and guided.”

Moreover, during the two-days webinar around 15 APRA alumni had the possibility to give 5 minute presentations on the main topics discussed during the webinar.

The UNESCO Chair in Bioethics and Human Rights has worked since 2009 to Foster the Art of Convergence and Cooperation in Global Ethics. Thanks to APRA and Anahuac University support, had the possibility to create another forum of diverse bioethics thought leaders, this time in a different setting, but with the same enthusiasm, in a spirit of respect and friendship, that characterized our mission.