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

APR 19, 2022 Podcast

Why Democracy vs. Autocracy Misses the Point, with Jean-Marie Guéhenno

The advent of the age of data is a formidable accelerator of history. As society faces a crisis of politics compounded by the emergence of ...

A United States Marine escorts a Department of State employee to evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. CREDIT: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Afghanistan_withdrawal_Image_3_of_7.jpg">Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/Public Domain</a>

AUG 23, 2021 Article

The Ethics of Exit from Afghanistan

Carnegie Council President Joel H. Rosenthal discusses the post-9/11 evolution from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency and analyzes the ethics surrounding the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. ...

CREDIT: <a href="https://pixabay.com/illustrations/abstract-geometric-world-map-1278080/">Pixabay (CC)</a>.

DEC 17, 2020 Podcast

The Technical Limits of AI Ethics

In recent years, the global discussion on "AI ethics" has succeeded in mainstreaming key principles to limit the risks that would otherwise arise from the ...