Global Ethics Corner: Disaster Relief and Ethics

Nov 7, 2008

We enter a slippery ethical slope when we begin to make distinctions between victims. When can an individual's rights be set aside?

When disaster strikes, relief operations' managers must make difficult decisions with a sure hand. The proper distribution of resources and personnel is critical when it comes to saving lives and delivering essential services. A few minutes may make the difference between life and death.

Yet, many residents ignore mandatory evacuation orders, potentially exposing rescue workers to risks and diverting resources. Is it ethical to abandon them, knowing the danger they face, their needs?

Some argue that the rights of first responders should have priority. But, can we be sure that those who stay behind do so out of bravado or spite? Some may not get the warning or stay out of fear, infirmity or disability.

We enter a slippery ethical slope when we begin to make distinctions between victims. When can an individual's rights be set aside?

When emotions are high, time is of the essence, and lives are at stake, deciding equitably can be impossible.

Often snap decisions are placed on the shoulders of individuals, asked to make judgments based solely on instinct. Alongside search and rescue training, formal ethics discussions are important for these brave professionals.

How can their difficult decisions be made easier? If faced with this choice, how would you decide?

By Matthew Hennessey

To post a comment, go to the Global Ethics Corner slideshow.

You may also like

JAN 4, 2022 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.4 (Winter 2021)

The issue features a book symposium organized by Michael Blake on Anna Stilz's "Territorial Sovereignty," with contributions from Adom Getachew; Christopher Heath Wellman; and Michael ...

MAY 11, 2021 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 35.1 (Spring 2021)

The highlight of this issue is a roundtable organized by Madison Powers on ethics and the future of the global food system. The roundtable contains ...

MAY 15, 2020 Podcast

Ethical Leadership in Times of Crisis, with Jeff McCausland

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended daily life for everyone. From large corporations to small non-profits to schools to the military, leaders at all types of ...