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Disaster medicine ethical guidelines needed for US health-care professionals

Alexandria, VA A new invited article in the August 2008 edition of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery calls on the U.S. medical community to develop a national consensus on ethical guidelines for physicians who care for patients, victims, and casualties of disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, or terrorist attacks.

The article, authored by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery's Ethics Committee Chair, G. Richard Holt, MD, MSE, MABE, MPH, calls for the establishment of a virtue-based, yet practical and ethical approach to medical care under extreme conditions. It also calls for the establishment of medical school curricula that will train our nation's future physicians for disaster response.

Dr. Holt discusses the problems associated with disaster medicine, citing the unique needs and environments created by not only the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, but also the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and the devastation the storm caused in New Orleans and the Southeast United States. According to Dr. Holt, the situation requires discussion ahead of time so healthcare workers are aware of the challenges they may face, as well as their responsibilities during a disaster event.

This call-to-action is especially timely as the U.S. faces another brutal hurricane season. Hurricane Dolly alone has affected hundreds in eastern New Mexico, with residents facing serious health threats from rising flood waters, contaminated water supplies, and power outages.

Dr. Holt also argues that educating physicians on these issues as part of standard medical school training will give them exposure to disaster-unique practices such as casualty triage and prioritization, as well as altered standards of care, and the moral and ethical responsibilities of physicians to care for disaster victims.


Contact: Matt Daigle
American Academy of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery

Page: 1

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