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DCU hosts Disaster Bioethics ‘Kick-Off’ meeting

On Thursday 25 and Friday 26 April 2013, Dr Dónal O’Mathúna, School of Nursing & Human Sciences and Professor Bert Gordijn of the DCU Institute of Ethics hosted the ‘kick-off’ meeting of the COST Action IS1201 on ‘Disaster Bioethics: Addressing ethical issues triggered by disasters.’ The conference was opened by Mr Jim Dowling, Deputy President of DCU.

Representatives from 27 countries attended the conference, which involved working groups developing the Action’s work plan for the rest of the year, and four keynote lectures. The Action has four working groups that will examine the ethical challenges in different areas of disaster planning and response. The four working groups are: Healthcare Ethics: this area will examine the difficult triage decisions that must be made when insufficient resources or personnel are available to care for the injured. Moral distress was identified as a significant problem for responders, with few training resources available for preparing people for disaster ethical dilemmas.

Bioethics, Culture and Moral Theory: this working group will examine different views of justice in allocating resources and how pre-existing social inequalities exacerbate problems in disasters. This area will also examine how culture and gender can be respected in disasters.

Research Ethics: with more research occurring to provide evidence for disaster planning and relief, this group will address the lack of research ethics guidelines.

Ethics and Governance: this working group discussed the challenges of developing guidelines that make a difference ‘on the ground.’ At the same time, a number of international organisations are seeking input on disaster bioethics which the Action will engage with.

The four keynote lectures provided expert input on the ethical struggles faced by those impacted by disasters, responders, and policy-makers. Podcasts will be available in the near future from the Action website at http://DisasterBioethics.eu. The lectures were:

Dr Jay Marlowe, University of Auckland, New Zealand on ‘Refugee background communities (post) disaster: The Canterbury Earthquakes and implications for research.’

Dr Chiara Lepora, Middle East Program Manager, Médecins sans Frontières on ‘How disasters expose the limitations of standard ethical guidelines.’

Professor Michele Landis Dauber, Stanford University, USA on ‘The Sympathetic State.’

Dr Andreas Reis, Ethics & Health, World Health Organization, Switzerland on ‘Ethics in epidemics, pandemics, and public health crises: WHO’s activities.’

The Action is funded for four years. Anyone with relevant experience or interest can join the Action to receive announcements about future events or engage in its work. An application to join is available at: http://disasterbioethics.eu/index.php/about-us/target-audience, or inquiries can be sent to DisasterBioethics@dcu.ie.