Jacobs Journal of Emergency Medicine

The Next Pandemic: Physician’s Ethical Duty to Treat During an Global Influenza Pandemic Based On Medical Specialty

Published on: 2017-03-03


In regards to infectious diseases, much of the discussion has recently focused on the Ebola virus disease (EVD) that has killed over 10,000 individuals since December 2013. However, other new infectious viral diseases such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), avian influenza (H5N1), influenza A (H1N1) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are capable of causing even greater mortality than EVD in a short period of time that will overwhelm many healthcare systems due to surge capacity. The world is due for an infectious disease pandemic of similar proportion as the 1918-1919 Spanish influenza that was estimated to have killed between 40-100 million individuals worldwide in a 12-month period. During such a pandemic where morbidity and mortality are high, do physicians have a duty to treat patients where there are significant risks of contracting the disease that could cause extreme illness and even death to themselves? The answer to this dilemma and controversy is “yes” and that it is based on medical specialty or the provider’s scope of practice. This essay will discuss this dilemma, including recommendations regarding the physician’s duty to treat based on the medical specialty in the face of personal risks during a global influenza pandemic.


Pandemic, Ethical Principles, Morbidity and Mortality, Standard of Care