Bioethics Blogs

Harvey and Irma: Bioethics in Natural Disasters

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

This is a time of disaster. Last week Hurricane Harvey devastated Southeast Texas, a place where I did my doctoral studies. This week we are awaiting Hurricane Irma, the strongest hurricane to head toward South Florida in 25 years. My family lays in the path of that coming storm. I first became interested in natural disaster in 1989 when my college campus was jolted by a 7.1 earthquake in Northern California.

Bioethics has a role in responding to and preparing for these natural disasters. Most every state, large city and county, and most hospitals have been working on crisis standards of care plans. In 2009 and again in 2012, the Institute of Medicine recommended governments to undertake such planning. Many of us working in bioethics have been involved in these efforts. More specifically, we have been involved with developing ethical frameworks for decision-making, policy-making, and operations during emergency planning.

I worked with Texas during its planning for pandemic flu and for the last 3 years have been part of the ethics subcommittee of Illinois’ workgroup, most recently as chair. Similar groups have produced excellent reports in many places such as Delaware, North Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota, Tennessee, Texas and Toronto. They offer guidance and justification for a varied set of guiding principles and ethical frameworks. All of them hold certain core ideals in common.

First, all of the reports agree that transparency and open communication is essential. Planning needs to involve not only government officials, but also community members.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.