Mini Bioethics Academy: Ethical Issues in Public Health Crises | Debra DeBruin, PhD

Ethical Issues in Public Health Crises

Headshot of Debra DeBruin
Debra DeBruin, PhD

Infectious disease epidemics, natural disasters and terrorist attacks can overwhelm existing public health and healthcare systems. These crises raise a complicated array of ethical issues, from rationing scarce resources to protecting vulnerable community members to providing appropriate supports to health professionals.

As part of a national effort, health departments and health care organizations are tasked with developing plans to enable them to respond appropriately to these types of crises. A critical part of that planning effort is the development of guidance for managing the ethical challenges that arise in these emergencies.

This presentation provided background on public health crisis planning, described the need for ethics guidance, discussed the fundamental ethical values that should guide crisis planning and response; and identified some ways to implement ethical guidance in the challenging context of mass casualty incidents.


Debra DeBruin, PhD, Interim Director, Director of Graduate Studies, and Associate Professor at the Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota. Dr. DeBruin primarily works on issues in public health ethics and the ethics of health policy, with a focus on concerns about social justice and health equity. Much of this work addresses issues of gender and the promotion of public health in resource poor settings. She also has done substantial work on public health emergency planning, with an emphasis on the importance of justice and equity in this perilous context. She has served as invited co-author on a published opinion of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Ethics Committee. She has been a member of a number of working groups relevant to public health in Minnesota, co-directed the Minnesota Pandemic Ethics Project, and led the project to develop ethics guidance for Crisis Standards of Care in Minnesota.