Healthcare ethics: the experience after the Haitian earthquake

Am J Disaster Med. May-Jun 2010;5(3):141-7.


On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 Richter earthquake devastated Haiti and its public health infrastructure leading to a worldwide humanitarian effort. The United States sent forces to Haiti's assistance including the USNS Comfort, a tertiary care medical center on board a ship. Besides setting a transparent triage and medical regulating system, the leadership on the Comfort instituted a multidisciplinary Healthcare Ethics Committee to assist in delivering the highest level efficient care to the largest number of victims. Allocation of resources was based on time-honored ethics principles, the concept of mass casualty triage in the setting of resource constraints, and constructs developed by the host nation's Ministry of Health. In offering aid in austere circumstances, healthcare practitioners must not only adhere to the basic healthcare ethics principles but also practice respect for communities, cultures, and traditions, as well as demonstrate respect for the sovereignty of the host nation. The principles outlined herein should serve as guidance for future disaster relief missions. This work is in accordance with BUMEDINST 6010.25, Establishment of Healthcare Ethics Committees.

MeSH terms

  • Earthquakes*
  • Ethics Committees / organization & administration*
  • Haiti
  • Health Resources
  • Hospitals, Military
  • Humans
  • Naval Medicine
  • Rescue Work / ethics*
  • Ships*
  • Triage / ethics
  • United States