The Ethics of Coercion

The Ethics of Coercion in Mass Casualty MedicineAmazon is very bad for my wallet, as I can’t help buying a book with a provocative title. In this case “The Ethics of Coercion in Mass Casualty Medicine” that I happened to spot in my random browsing. It’s one of those titles that seems contradictory on its face, how do coercion and medicine go together? I have just started the book, and its always a good sign with the preface gives you view you had not considered before. The author, Griffin Trotter, M.D., Ph. D. teaches ethics at the St. Louis University Center for Health Care Ethics, explores the issues of individual liberties vs the need for public good in providing medical treatment to large groups in the midst of a disaster. It introduced me to the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MSEHPA), a controversial proposal intended to prevent the spread of epidemics and bioterrorism.

Like many ethical questions, the line can be pretty blurry, and coercion in this case is essentially when the state determines it is necessary to overstep individual liberty for the common good. Individuals with highly infectious illness can be forced to remain in isolation. In situations like 9/11 and Katrina, treating the sick and injured in an effective manner means that individuals act as a unified group acting in rational ways to allow for orderly treatment and triage. Not the situation found in the typical Mass Casuality Medicine scenario.

Like I say, I just started it, but its raising provocative questions for me already.