Bioterrorism and Public Law: The Ethics of Scarce Medical Resource Allocation in Mass Casualty Situations
32 Pages Posted: 31 Aug 2010
Date Written: July 1, 2008
The threat of bioterrorism poses formidable ethical and legal challenges. In the event of a bioterror attack, medical providers and public health officials may be called upon to deliver or administer medical resources to vulnerable populations. If those resources are insufficient in quantity to treat these populations, many people who vitally need aggressive medical care will not have access to it. Public health officials will have to allocate scarce medical resources and devices within these vulnerable populations, implicitly opting to save certain lives at the expense of others. Health care providers will be in the conspicuous and unfortunate position of turning away many deathly ill people. Under intense pressure, health care providers operating without proper guidance may make inconsistent decisions that do not reflect sound public health policy. Accordingly, to guide allocation and to ensure that it does not disrupt or undermine recovery efforts, it is imperative that clear plans for medical resource allocation are made in advance of bioterrorism and other mass casualty situations. This Note explores various alternatives and, finding none of them acceptable, advocates the use of legal process to engage the public in discussion and seek collective resolution of an unresolvable dilemma.
Keywords: Bioterrorism, ethics, rationing, mass casualty, public law, legal process
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