Swine Flu and Ethics

swine-flu

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.

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4 Responses to Swine Flu and Ethics

  1. Jason Mark Anderman May 1, 2009 at 3:09 pm #

    Your points are well taken. In particular, the tremendous fear and publicity for the Swine Flu is out of proportion with the actual number of deaths (however sad these individual cases may be). They make me think about the nature of human cognition, and how it can lead us to not be objective. In particular, we employ the fallacies of “Contrast,” which makes us perceive an event as being more important or less important, not on its merits, but based on contrasting the even with what we’ve seen around it. Seeing reports about the horrific 1918 pandemic, for instance, triggers this contrast problem. Another problem is “Self Confirmation,” where we ignore data that does not support our fear, and only embrace data that does back our contentions. A good example would be the failure to think about the much greater number of people who die from the normal flu outbreaks each year instead of the swine flu. Finally, we often engage in “Confirmity,” meaning that we go along with what everyone else is concerned about, following along with the mass hysteria as part of the chain reaction. Listening to nonstop reports about swine flu is certainly causing this confirmity error.

    http://www.cognitive-edge.com/blogs/dave/2009/04/we_are_not_good_at_being_objec.php

    • Doug Cornelius May 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

      Jason –

      I personally blame the media and Joe Biden for the reaction. People walking around in masks and schools closing out of fear make for good visuals on the evening news. This seems to create a positive feedback loop for overreaction.

      Yes, we want to stay aware for a possible pandemic. But this current iteration of the Swine Flu does not seems to be overly contagious or deadly.

      Someone should point this out to Joe Biden before he tells people to stay off airplanes.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. WhichDraft.com » Blog Archive » What Swine Flu Hysteria Tells Us About Contracting Errors - May 1, 2009

    […] out of proportion with the actual number of deaths (however sad these individual cases may be).  Apparently, during the 1990s approximately 36,000 people died each year due to the flu in the United States.  […]

  2. What Swine Flu Hysteria Tells Us About Cognitive Contracting Errors | Contract Alchemy - February 7, 2010

    […] out of proportion with the actual number of deaths (however sad these individual cases may be).  Apparently, during the 1990s approximately 36,000 people died each year due to the flu in the United States.  […]