A disaster is a situation that overwhelms the local population’s capacity to respond, thus necessitating a request for assistance from outside the impacted area. In these circumstances, needs usually outweigh resources. The objective of response is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people (the utilitarian principle). As such, some unique ethical considerations will arise that are not seen in day-to-day practice.
The adoption of medical ethics principles is important in such situations, but certain provisions must be accepted. In large-scale, complex disasters, it may be impossible to provide optimal care to each patient. This paper will discuss some of the challenges for healthcare personnel at “ground zero”, how training in preventive ethics may help, and what principles can be applied when working in disaster-affected areas or when responding to disasters.
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