A Qualitative Study of Paramedic Duty to Treat During Disaster Response

Erin Smith, Frederick Burkle, Kristine Gebbie, David Ford, Cécile Bensimon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objectives: Disasters place unprecedented demands on emergency medical services and can test paramedics personal commitment as health care professionals. Despite this challenge, guidelines and codes of ethics are largely silent on the issue, providing little to no guidance on what is expected of paramedics or how they ought to approach their duty to treat in the face of risk. The objective of this research is to explore how paramedics view their duty to treat during disasters. Methods: The authors employed qualitative methods to gather Australian paramedic perspectives. Results: Our findings suggest that paramedic decisions around duty to treat will largely depend on individual perception of risk and competing obligations. A code of ethics for paramedics would be useful, but ultimately each paramedic will interpret these suggested guidelines based on individual values and the situational context. Conclusions: Coming to an understanding of the legal issues involved and the ethical-social expectations in advance of a disaster may assist paramedics to respond willingly and appropriately.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)191-196
Number of pages6
JournalDisaster medicine and public health preparedness
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • code of ethics
  • disaster
  • duty to treat
  • paramedic
  • professional obligations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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