When disaster strikes, who decides what medical care is needed? How do doctors decide who gets treated first? Which injuries and illnesses should be prioritised? How do responders deal with lingering questions about whether they did the right thing? What if the responders have different ethical values and priorities to those in the culture they have come to help? What sort of research is needed to provide evidence for disaster responders and how can it be conducted ethically? Who should oversee disaster research when the local infrastructure may be demolished?
These, and many other ethical questions are raised by disasters and responses to them. I have chaired from 2012 to 2016 an EU-funded network of academics and international organisations addressing these ethical questions. The resources developed by this network are available at its own website and more continue to be added. See: Disaster Bioethics COST Action. A new initiative is now being developed to continue this work. See: Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Ethics.
Resources I have contributed to are collected at another website focused on Disaster Bioethics: click here. A few of them are available from the links below.
Dónal P. O’Mathúna, “Christian theology and disasters: Where is God in all this?” in Disasters: Core Concepts and Ethical Theories. Edited by Dónal P. O’Mathúna, Vilius Dranseika, & Bert Gordijn, pp. 27-42. Cham: Springer, 2018.
Dónal O’Mathúna, “Ethics and Evidence,” an Evidence Aid blog with Hugo Slim (August 2016).
Dónal O’Mathúna, “Ideal and nonideal moral theory for disaster bioethics,” Human Affairs 26.1 (2016): 8-17.
Dónal P. O’Mathúna & Johan Von Schreeb, “Ethical dilemmas with amputations after earthquakes,” UNISDR Scientific and Technical Advisory Group Case Studies – 2015.
Dónal P. O’Mathúna, “Research ethics in the context of humanitarian emergencies,” Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 8.1 (2015): 31-35.
Dónal P. O’Mathúna, Bert Gordijn, Mike Clarke (eds.). Disaster Bioethics: Normative Issues When Nothing is Normal. Dordrecht: Springer, 2014. ISBN 978-94-007-3863-8.
“Ethics in disaster research,” Cochrane Evidence Aid podcast, 20 May 2011.
“Conducting research in the aftermath of disasters: ethical considerations,” Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 3.2 (2010): 65-75.