Unmasked: A comparative analysis of the physician’s ethical and legal duty to treat during a pandemic

Cristina Pelkas, Matthew Boisseau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


For the first time in over a hundred years, the world faces a devastating pandemic. Millions have been infected with the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV-2 virus and thousands have died. Unprecedented global shortages of protective equipment have resulted in the infection and death of healthcare workers. The legal and ethical duty of a doctor to treat during a pandemic has evolved over time, shaped by legislation and ethical guidance following SARS and the September 11 terrorism attacks. A positive ethical obligation to treat is arguably outweighed by the inability to meet occupational safety standards and high risk of personal harm, in addition to a physician’s competing duties to future patients, their families and colleagues. Nevertheless, individuals who continue working should be acknowledged by society with accessible worker’s compensation, alternative accommodation, hazard pay and student debt forgiveness so that healthcare workers continue to serve patients, answering far beyond the call of duty.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-229
Number of pages19
JournalMedical Law International
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


  • COVID-19
  • duty to treat
  • occupational health and safety
  • personal protective equipment
  • physician


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