Bioethics Digest

In this feature, our team provides you with an overview of the most recent publications in the field of bioethics, with a particular focus on contributions coming from (or having relevance for) Switzerland.

Buona lettura! Bonne lecture! Viel Spass beim Lesen! Enjoy your reading!

The editors: Andrea Martani and Maddalena Favaretto


Public health ethics

“COVID-19 vaccination acceptance in the canton of Geneva: a cross-sectional population-based study”

What are the perceptions of the Swiss population on COVID-19 vaccinations? The study by Wisniak and colleagues focuses on this question by drawing on data from questionnaires administered to the population of the Canton of Geneva. The results show high acceptance rates of the COVID-19 vaccines, but they also highlight higher diffidence towards the jab in particular subgroups of the population (e.g. depending on income). The authors underline that acceptance of the vaccine is higher amongst the clinically vulnerable (following specific informative campaigns directed at them), and thus call for tailored communication strategies also for socially vulnerable subgroups of the population.

Wisniak A, et al. COVID-19 vaccination acceptance in the canton of Geneva: a cross-sectional population-based study. Swiss Med Wkly. 2021 Dec 14;151:w30080. doi: 10.4414/smw.2021.w30080.



“The Ethical Unjustifications of COVID-19 Triage Committees”

Since new variants of the SARS‑CoV‑2 continue to emerge, debates on how to triage patients in case of lack of enough medical resources remain tragically pertinent. Whilst many have argued that decisions on triage should be made by ad-hoc (ethical) committees, in this article the author argues that frontline physicians should be the most central decision makers in case of triage. Tian substantiate her position by drawing on arguments concerning, for example, the moral distress that could emerge if healthcare workers were to be forced to implement triage decisions taken by a committee but which they consider inappropriate. The author concludes by suggesting how ethicists and other stakeholders could help physicians in situations of resource scarcity else than forming ad-hoc triage committees.

Tian, Y.J. The Ethical Unjustifications of COVID-19 Triage Committees. Bioethical Inquiry 18, 621–628 (2021).  doi:10.1007/s11673-021-10132-0



“Advance Car-Crash Planning: Shared Decision Making between Humans and Autonomous Vehicles”

Since self-driving vehicles are likely to become a reality in the future, ethicists have started debating what criteria should be programmed into such cars, so that they act morally in accident situations. Based on a research project conducted in Switzerland, Shaw and Schneble suggest to solve this question by implementing a form of advanced crash planning into self-driving cars, which would allow car-owners to regulate the “moral settings” of their vehicle, whilst the latter would then practically operationalise them if an accident occurs. In this piece, the authors illustrate their proposal and defend it against potential objections.

Shaw DM, Schneble CO. Advance Car-Crash Planning: Shared Decision Making between Humans and Autonomous Vehicles. Sci Eng Ethics 27, 75 (2021).  doi:10.1007/s11948-021-00358-x