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Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 2010 Jan;54(1):9-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1399-6576.2009.02163.x. Epub 2009 Nov 16.

Pandemic influenza: human rights, ethics and duty to treat.

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  • 1Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Kuopio, Kuopio, Finland.


The 2009 influenza A/H1N1 pandemic seems to be only moderately severe. In the future, a pandemic influenza with high lethality, such as the Spanish influenza in 1918-1919 or even worse, may emerge. In this kind of scenario, lethality rates ranging roughly from 2% to 30% have been proposed. Legal and ethical issues should be discussed before the incident. This article aims to highlight the legal, ethical and professional aspects that might be relevant to anaesthesiologists in the case of a high-lethality infectious disease such as a severe pandemic influenza. The epidemiology, the role of anaesthesiologists and possible threats to the profession and colleagueship within medical specialties relevant to anaesthesiologists are reviewed. During historical plague epidemics, some doctors have behaved like 'deserters'. However, during the Spanish influenza, physicians remained at their jobs, although many perished. In surveys, more than half of the health-care workers have reported their willingness to work in the case of severe pandemics. Physicians have the same human rights as all citizens: they have to be effectively protected against infectious disease. However, they have a duty to treat. Fair and responsible colleagueship among the diverse medical specialties should be promoted. Until disaster threatens humanity, volunteering to work during a pandemic might be the best way to ensure that physicians and other health-care workers stay at their workplace. Broad discussion in society is needed.

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