Responsible and responsive public health advice: what Trumps?

Dr Monique Jonas1

1School of Population Health, University Of Auckland, , New Zealand

In an interview reflecting upon his work as advisor to US President Trump during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Anthony S Fauci revealed that he became known in White House circles as “a skunk at the picnic.”  Fauci privileged his public health commitments and sense of professional integrity over the agenda of his advisee. Fauci’s strategy, which manifests what political theorists Eichbaum and Shaw characterise as responsibleness, can be contrasted with the advisory strategy of responsiveness, in which the advisor takes the advisee’s agenda as read, and offers prudential guidance about how best to give effect to it.

This paper considers the ethical underpinnings of the responsibleness and responsiveness models and argues that, whilst both can be consistent with advice’s defining purpose and each presents challenges for realizing that purpose, responsibleness delimits responsiveness. Drawing on professional and personal contexts in which public health advice is sought or offered, I will show that what responsibleness requires of an advisor is mediated by their status with respect to the advisor, the state and the community.


Monique Jonas is an ethical theorist. Her research focuses on the ethics of advising, ethical aspects of parenting and the relationship between the family and the state. Monique is the Chair of the Health Research Council Ethics Committee and has served on the National Ethics Advisory and National Health Committees.

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