To read the full version of this content please select one of the options below:

Covid-19 pandemic and future global catastrophic risks as a challenge for health-care ethics

Konrad Szocik (Department of Social Sciences, University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Rzeszów, Poland)
Rakhat Abylkasymova (Department of Social Sciences, University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Rzeszów, Poland)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 15 May 2021




Current covid-19 pandemic challenges health-care ethics. Ones of the most important challenges are medical resources allocation and a duty to treat, often addressed to medical personnel. This paper suggests that there are good reasons to rethink our health-care ethics for future global catastrophic risks. Current pandemic shows how challenging can be an issue of resources allocation even in a relatively small kind of catastrophic event such as covid-19 pandemic. In this paper, the authors show that any future existential bigger catastrophe may require new guidelines for the allocation of medical resources. The idea of assisted dying is considered as a hypothetical scenario.


This is a conceptual work based on conceptual analysis at the intersection of risk studies, health-care ethics and future studies. This study builds the argument on the assumption that the covid-19 pandemic should be treated as a sort of global catastrophic risk. Findings show that there are no such attempts in currently published peer-reviewed academic literature. This is crucial concept for the meta-analysis. This study shows why and how current pandemic can be interpreted in terms of global catastrophic risk even if, literally, covid-19 does not meet all criteria required in the risk studies to be called a global catastrophe.


We can expect an emergence of discriminatory selection policy which will require some actions taken by future patients like, for example, genetic engineering. But even then it is inevitable that there will still be a large number of survivors who require medical assistance, which they have no chance of receiving. This is why this study has considered the concept of assisted dying understood as an official protocol for health-care ethics and resources allocation policy in the case of emergency situations. Possibly more controversial idea discussed in this paper is an idea of assisted dying for those who cannot receive required medical help. Such procedure could be applied in a mass-scale during a global catastrophic event.

Research limitations/implications

Philosophers and ethicists should identify and study all possible pros and cons of this discrimination rule. As this study’s findings suggested above, a reliable point of reference is the concept of substantial human enhancement. Human enhancement as such, widely debated, should be studied in that specific context of discrimination of patients in an access to limited medical resources. Last but not least, scientific community should study the concept of assisted dying which could be applied for those survivors who have no chance of obtaining medical care. Such criteria and concepts as cost-benefit analysis, the ethics of quality of life, autonomy of patients and duty of medical personnel should be considered.

Practical implications

Politicians and policymakers should prepare protocols for global catastrophes where these discrimination criteria would have to be applied. The same applies to the development of medical robotics aimed at replacing human health-care personnel. We assume that this is important implication for practical policy in healthcare. Our prediction, however plausible, is not a good scenario for humanity. But given this realistic development trajectory, we should do everything possible to prevent the need for the discriminatory rules in medical care described above.


This study offers the idea of assisted dying as a health-care policy in emergency situations. The authors expect that next future global catastrophes – looking at the current pandemic only as a mild prelude – will force a radical change in moral values and medical standards. New criteria of selection and discrimination will be perceived as much more exclusivist and unfair than criteria applied today.



The authors declare no conflict of interests.


Szocik, K. and Abylkasymova, R. (2021), "Covid-19 pandemic and future global catastrophic risks as a challenge for health-care ethics", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

Related articles