Swine Flu and Ethics


The Swine Flu has spread in the United States with about 100 confirmed cases in over 10 states. There has even been one confirmed death. These are still very small numbers.

Keep in mind that the CDC estimated that about 36,000 people died of flu-related causes each year, on average, during the 1990s in the United States. So one death related to the swine flu, no matter how tragic, is not significant as a nationwide health problem. The Swine Flu has a long way to go to become even an average influenza outbreak.

Personally, I am not worried, still take public transportation, and don’t wear a surgical mask when I am out. (To be on the safe side, I have not been kissing any pigs.)

Although I am clearly skeptical that the Swine Flu will arise to a pandemic, all the news coverage did make think about the ethical issues related to pandemic. Earlier this week I focused on the disaster recovery and compliance issues related to a pandemic. I decided to take a detour from business ethics and took a look at medical ethics.

There are some interesting ethical issues that come into play with a pandemic. Who gets treated first? Who doesn’t get treated if you have to ration supplies?

The CDC takes the position that the over-riding, guiding principle in pandemic influenza management is the preservation of a functioning society. That means medical providers, public safety personnel, and individuals essential to the “functioning of key aspects of society” get treated first. (I assume that compliance officers do not fall into any of those groups.)

In this video, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics Director of Bioethics Margaret R. McLean talks with Center Executive Director Kirk O. Hanson about the recent outbreak of Swine Flu and some of the ethical issues it may pose.