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Ethics in a pandemic

Coping effectively with a predicted influenza pandemic that threatens to affect the health of millions worldwide, hobble economies and overwhelm health care systems will require more than new drugs and good infection control.

An international medical ethics think-tank says that all-important public cooperation and the coordination of public officials at all levels requires open and ethical decision making.

The Influenza Pandemic Working Group at the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics today recommended a 15-point ethical guide for pandemic planning, based in part on experiences and study of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis of 2003.

The report says plans to deal with a flu pandemic need to be founded on commonly held ethical values. People need to subscribe in advance to the rationale behind such choices as: the priority recipients of resources, including hospital services and medicines; how much risk front line health care workers should take; and support given to people under restrictions such as quarantine. Decision makers and the public need to be engaged so plans reflect what most people will accept as fair and good for public health.

"A shared set of ethical values is the glue that can hold us together during an intense crisis," says Peter Singer, M.D., Director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics (JCB), which undertook the advisory report. "A key lesson from the SARS outbreak is that fairness becomes more important during a time of crisis and confusion. And the time to consider these questions and processes in relation to a threatened major pandemic is now."

The report concludes that flu pandemic plans universally need an ethical component that address four key issues:

1. Health workers' duty to provide care during a communicable disease outbreak.
2. Restricting liberty in the interest of public health by measures such as qu
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Contact: Terry Collins
terrycollins@rogers.com
416-538-8712
University of Toronto Joint Center for Bioethics
27-Nov-2005


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