159096 Ethics and emergencies in public health

Tuesday, November 6, 2007: 5:10 PM

Marcel Verweij , Ethics Institute, Utrecht University, Utrecht, Netherlands
The ethical issues that arise in action plans for influenza pandemic preparedness and response have led to further expansion of the field of public health ethics. It is often assumed that in such a global emergency extraordinary measures may be justified in order to mitigate the effects of a pandemic. However, the concept of a public health emergency is not as straightforward as it may seem in a pandemic. Which features (if any) of an outbreak of infectious diseases are morally relevant in such a way that rights and interests of individual persons can be justifiably set aside? After all, many authors in public health ethics argue that such individual concerns are less important vis-ŕ-vis public health concerns anyway. If certain extreme measures are justified in a pandemic, could it be that these are equally justified in ‘normal' circumstances? In this paper I will explore the moral relevance of emergencies in a public health context. One reason why an emergency context is morally relevant is the feature that there is little time for deliberation because immediate action is required. However, pandemic action plans are developed to be prepared and to mitigate the problems of emergency. It is also possible to argue that, especially in a context where it is very difficult to oversee the course of events, hence the consequences of policies and actions, consequentialist approaches are inappropriate. These issues illustrate the importance of ethical analysis of the concept of public health emergencies.

Learning Objectives:
Articulate and criticise the concept of a public health emergency. Discuss how and why emergency contexts (e.g. a pandemic) changes moral evaluation of public health interventions.

Keywords: Ethics, Infectious Diseases

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.