Faculty Expertise and Guidance Sought

As the world grapples with the pandemic, a wide range of legal issues have been brought to the forefront. The expertise of UW Law faculty has been in demand as these complex issues develop.


From the allocation of ventilators to untested clinical trials, the pandemic has no shortage of ethical quandaries. Two UW Law professors and bioethicists, Pilar Ossario and Alta Charo, have been sought-out experts.

The urgency of the situation can lead to shortcuts in clinical trials and research, Pilar Ossario says, but the world could be at risk of sacrificing essential knowledge for fighting COVID-19 and future deadly viruses without sound research. Drawing on lessons from Ebola, she says, “If you do panicked, sloppy research, at the end of it you won’t know anything. You can’t help people in the next Ebola outbreak any better than you helped them in this outbreak, because you didn’t do good research.”

Charo was appointed co-chair of the National Academy of Medicine’s new Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which is tasked with rapid response to Health & Human Services and White House questions. The working group looks at issues in which science, law, and ethics converge, such as how to responsibly open workplaces, how to reduce racial disparities in outcomes, or overall how to better structure the public health system.

Authority and Emergency Powers

With stay-at-home orders came questions about political authority during a public health crisis. Professor David Schwartz, who specializes in federal-state constitutional law, has discussed the balance between state and federal powers.

Questions about governors’ emergency powers have also emerged. Professor Miriam Seifter, an expert in administrative law and separation of powers, described states as the front lines of public health defense. “The federal government has a crucial role to play, but it’s the states that really do the actions that protect public health and safety in the ways that affect people’s day to day lives.”

Domestic Violence

Ryan Poe-Gavlinski, the director of the VOCA Restraining Order Clinic and an expert on domestic violence and legal services, says a pandemic can be even more dangerous for victims of domestic abuse, including children. “Signs of abuse are not readily seen by others because we as a society are not having contact with others. Victims do not want to seek medical attention for obvious reasons. Access to services is hard, given the limitations that advocates and those assisting victims currently face,” she says.

For complete coverage of UW Law faculty expertise, visit law.wisc.edu/news.