Prompted by long-standing realities that have recently erupted during the pandemic and ongoing protests against racial injustice in the US, this Special Section’s essays evolved out of conversations around the theme of the ‘COVID Horizon’. Authored by physician-anthropologists at various stages of their training, the Position Pieces describe vital searches for liveability in domains of emergency response. Moving beyond the walls of the clinical, they track medicine as an institution embedded in and shoring up other institutions linked to human rights, carceral detention, reproductive unfreedoms, and/or pandemic biocontainment—all of which define the scope of democratic freedoms and determine who exactly is afforded said freedoms. Within institutions of deferred or dislocated responsibility, the essays probe tensions between action and abstention, distance and proximity, futility and hope, and containment and freedom with the objective of dismantling forms of ‘démission’ (Fanon 1952) or abdication and locating an actionable ‘otherwise’ allowing for accountability and solidarity. The contributors’ ‘horizoning work’ (Petryna 2018) imagines a different ground from which to anticipate the role of medicine in the 21st century.