Pandemics, Protocols, and the Plague of Athens: Insights from Thucydides

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


When confronted by the novel ethical challenges posed by a pandemic, it is helpful to turn to history for guidance and direction. In this essay, the author revisits Thucydides's description of the Plague of Athens from The Peloponnesian War as he considers the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law's 2015 guidelines on ventilator allocation. Confronted by the exigencies of the Covid-19 surge that struck New York, he questions the task force's decision not to give any degree of preference to health care workers who might become ill. He posits that they are due a compensatory ethic and some deference given the risks they have assumed, often with inadequate protective gear. Reflecting on his ambivalence, he asks if his change of heart reflects the impact of experiential learning or the erosion of nomos—or governing norms—described by Thucydides when the plague struck Athens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-53
Number of pages4
JournalHastings Center Report
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Covid-19
  • New York Ventilator Allocation Guidelines
  • Plague of Athens
  • Thucydides
  • ethics
  • Plague/epidemiology
  • Greece/epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • Humans
  • Personal Protective Equipment/supply & distribution
  • Coronavirus Infections/epidemiology
  • New York City/epidemiology
  • Bioethical Issues
  • Health Personnel
  • Pneumonia, Viral/epidemiology
  • Betacoronavirus
  • Clinical Protocols/standards

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


Dive into the research topics of 'Pandemics, Protocols, and the Plague of Athens: Insights from Thucydides'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this