Ethics of health care practice in humanitarian crises

Humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters can overwhelm the capacity of local and national agencies to respond to the needs of affected populations. In such cases, international relief organizations are frequently involved in the provision of emergency assistance. Health care professionals play a key role in these interventions. This practice environment is significantly different from the context of health care delivery in the home countries of expatriate health care professionals. Clinicians who travel from a developed nation to a resource-poor setting where a humanitarian crisis has occurred experience a shift of professional, social, cultural and regulatory environments. In this dissertation I examine the ethics of health care practice in humanitarian work. I evaluate the literature of global bioethics, global health ethics and the ethics of humanitarian assistance, and consider the contributions of various ethics frameworks and normative approaches. I also develop a set of questions to guide health care professionals as they address ethically complex issues arising in clinical practice during humanitarian crises. In the empirical component of this research program I use Interpretive Description methodology to examine the moral experience of health care professionals in humanitarian relief work, and clinician experiences of resources and constraints for addressing ethical issues in humanitarian settings. Building upon the inductively derived findings, I argue for strategies and approaches that humanitarian organizations, project teams, and health care professionals can adopt to respond to the ethics of this field of practice. I also provide a critical review of Interpretive Description methodology. The research presented in this dissertation makes an important contribution to the ethical analysis of health care practice in humanitarian work
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