Between autonomy and public good: Exploring individuals’ understanding of the ethical implications of COVID-19 public health response measures
Puhan Milo Alan
The principle of respect for autonomy extends beyond the boundaries of clinical practice; it is vitally important within the public health context. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the limits of upholding such principle when applying emergency public health measures. The implementation of suppression and mitigation strategies, such as case identification, quarantine and isolation, contact tracing, social distancing, and a lockdown of schools, universities, workplaces and businesses, translate in the temporary suspension of a number of individual rights in favor of a wider, public health goal. In such a context, public health institutions need to identify a sound ethical justification for measures that override individual autonomy. However, the boundaries between coercion, persuasion and appeals for individual responsibility are not always clear. Furthermore, different populations are affected by such measures in different ways. The present study aims at exploring how parents living in two Swiss language regions interpret the tension between individual autonomy and public good in the application of COVID-19 outbreak response measures and how they exercise their autonomy in such a context. Results will inform recommendations aimed at easing such tension and weighing individuals’ autonomy against the common good by accounting for individuals’ preferences.