202879 Whistleblower of Kirsten Springs

Monday, November 9, 2009: 11:00 AM

David H. Flood, PhD , Department of Health Sciences and Health Administration, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
Rhonda L. Soricelli, MD , Clinical Educator and Independent Scholar, Media, PA
A small town, perpetually plagued by chronic unemployment, has recently discovered that its springs have therapeutic qualities. Hoping to transform the town, a Health Institute is developing the town into a destination spa when a doctor on the Institute's board discovers that the springs are contaminated. Naively thinking he will be greeted as a hero for catching the contamination early and safeguarding the public health, he quickly meets opposition because his report would jeopardize the town's economy--jobs, cost of clean-up, property values, community public image. The town works to suppress his report, the industry that is the source of the pollution challenges his scientific findings, the would-be hero is now cast as the town's enemy, and his plan to shut down the springs to correct the problem is rejected.

The “case” is a fictional one presented in Henrik Ibsen's play An Enemy of the People; nevertheless, it raises all-to-familiar ethical concerns: the dilemma when the values of ecological and public health conflict with those of livelihoods, community prosperity, and interests of big business; the dilemma of the whistle blower whose truth may put him at odds with economic and political agendas and the perceived general good; the short-sighted, willing blindness of the community to the evidence and to an ethical responsibility that conflicts with material self-interest.

In a variation of narrative ethics, Ibsen's “case” richly illustrates complexities of decision making involving the intersection of health and environmental issues with economic, political, and social concerns.

Learning Objectives:
1. Identify conflicting values and objectives in the case’s combined environmental and public health issue and the case’s whistle blower’s situation. 2. Formulate possible decisions for the conflicts. 3. Evaluate the decisions. 4. Identify similar current day situations.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a tenured faculty member teaching medical humanities and medical ethics. I am also a regular presenter at the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

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.