Triage in public health emergencies: ethical issues

Intern Emerg Med. 2010 Apr;5(2):137-44. doi: 10.1007/s11739-010-0362-0. Epub 2010 Feb 19.


General concepts about medical disasters, public health and triage are outlined. Triage is described in the context of public health emergencies and disaster settings, and the main ethical values at stake in triage are discussed. Possible conflicts between competing values are outlined. Special attention is given to possible conflicts between the protection of individual interests (typical of clinical ethics), and the pursuit of collective interests (typical of public health and triage). Hippocratic ethics is compared to utilitarian ethics and to perspectives that emphasize the principle of justice. Three ethical attitudes are suggested that may contribute to a resolution of competing values: protection of human dignity, precaution and, especially, solidarity. Personalism promotes the collective good by safeguarding and giving value to the well-being of each individual. A personalistic perspective is suggested as a way to deepen the concept of solidarity as a pillar both of clinical and public health ethics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics
  • Delivery of Health Care / ethics
  • Disasters
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Humans
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • Public Health Practice / ethics
  • Social Values
  • Triage / ethics*