Just Emergencies Episode 12: Vulnerability Part 5 with Prof. Samia Hurst

Food Bank Workers Packing Plastic Bags

Welcome to another episode of the ‘Just Emergencies’ podcast. In Episode 12 ‘Vulnerability Part 5’, Professor Samia Hurst (twitter: @samiahurst) discusses her conception of vulnerability and what it can tell us about the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. 

After being asked to present a lecture on vulnerability to a class of biology students more than 10 years ago, Professor Hurst realised that other than our intuitive understanding of the term, there were few workable definitions of the concepts in the bioethics literature. And so she set out to create one.

Her influential work conceptualises vulnerability as being in a state where one is at greater risk of being harmed or wronged. She points to the elderly being more vulnerable to the serious effects of Covid-19, for example, especially when compared to young children.

We’re all vulnerable at some point in our lives, to some things. But it does not mean that we all have the same vulnerabilities all the time. So it’s interesting and important to distinguish, even though, in the end, it’s a concept that no-one can really escape from.

In the episode, Professor Hurst outlines some of the advantages of her approach and shows how appropirate responses to, for example, the ongoing global health emergency need to have a nuanced understanding of vulnerability, the way it plays out in different contexts, how vulnerabilities often come in clusters of groups, and how we need to acknowledge our ‘blind spots’ in order to create effective policy responses.

To find out more, listen the full episode and or read the complete episode transcripts.

Links and Further Resources

‘Hundreds queue for food parcels in wealthy Geneva‘, The Guardian, 9 May 2020.

Coronavirus leaves irregular migrants in Switzerland in precarious situation‘, Swissinfo, 5 May 2020.

S. Hurst, ‘Vulnerability in Old Age. The Fragility of Inappropriately Protected Interests’, (2020) Aging and Human Nature, 25, 241-252.

L. Sossauer, M. Schindler & S. Hurst, ‘Vulnerability identified in clinical practice: a qualitative analysis‘, (2019) BMC Medical Ethics, 20.

A. Martin & S. Hurst,’On vulnerability – analysis and applications of a many-faceted concept: Introduction’, (2017) The Ethics Forum, 12(2-3), 146-153.

Tavaglione N, Martin A, Mezger N, Durieux S, François A, Jackson Y, Hurst SA, ‘Fleshing out vulnerability’, (2015) Bioethics, 29(2), 98-107.

S. Hurst, ‘Clarifying vulnerability: the case of children,’ (2015) Asian Bioethics Review, 7(2), 126-138.

Martin A., Tavaglione N., Hurst SA, ‘Resolving the conflict: clarifying ‘vulnerability’ in health care ethics’, (2014) Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 24(1), 51-72.

S. Hurst, ‘Protecting vulnerable persons: an ethical requirement in need of clarification’, (2013) Revuew medicale suisse, 9(386), 1054-1057.

S. Hurst, ‘Vulnerability in research and health care; describing the elephant in the room’, (2008) Bioethics, 22(4), 191-202.


‘Just Emergencies’ is produced and edited by Rebecca Richards and made with funding from the Wellcome Trust.

Our intro song is ‘The sun comes up, I come down’ by Silicon Transmitter.

Our outro song is ‘Surge and Swell’ by Pictures of the Floating World.

Both are available under an Attribution-Noncommerical-ShareAlike3.0 Creative Commons License from Free Music Archive.

Image by Joel Muniz on Unsplash.