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Am J Disaster Med. 2013 Autumn;8(4):243-52. doi: 10.5055/ajdm.2013.0130.

Ethical dilemmas related to predictions and warnings of impending natural disaster.

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Associate Professor, School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Monash University, Sunway Campus, Jalan Lagoon Selatan, Selangor, Malaysia.
Student, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.


Scientists and policy makers issuing predictions and warnings of impending natural disaster are faced with two major challenges, that is, failure to warn and issuing a false alarm. The consequences of failure to warn can be serious for society overall, for example, significant economic losses, heavy infrastructure and environmental damage, large number of human casualties, and social disruption. Failure to warn can also have serious for specific individuals, for example, legal proceedings against disaster research scientists, as in the L'Aquila earthquake affair. The consequences of false alarms may be less serious. Nevertheless, false alarms may violate the principle of nonmaleficence (do no harm), affect individual autonomy (eg, mandatory evacuations), and may result in the "cry wolf" effect. Other ethical issues associated with natural disasters include the promotion of global justice through international predisaster technical assistance and postdisaster aid. Social justice within a particular country is promoted through greater postdisaster aid allocation to the less privileged.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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