Decision-Making in Humanitarian Health in Situations of Extreme Violence

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Date published
01 Jan 2019
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Conflict, violence & peace, Development & humanitarian aid, Leadership and Decisionmaking

Humanitarian health organizations face enormous ethical challenges in conducting their operations, particularly in situations of severe and persistent violence. We define ethical challenges broadly here to include situations where the best moral course of action could be unclear (e.g., when additional deliberation or analysis is necessary to define the right action), where it might not be possible to fully uphold all the moral values at stake (e.g., when a duty to avoid harm conflicts with the duty to serve all equally), where the moral course of action is clear but circumstances prevent one from taking it, or where there is no right answer but action is needed.

This project and this organizational handbook are the result of a collaboration by the Center for Public Health and Human Rights and the Center for Humanitarian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, supported by individuals from the Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics, the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). The project explored the ethical challenges organizations faced in situations of extreme violence in Syria, and, working from that context, sought to provide a framework of principles for ethical decision-making, as well as a handbook with practical guidance for humanitarian health organizations to resolve these complex ethical challenges.