Acceptable Limitations on Paramedic Duty to Treat during Disaster: A Qualitative Exploration

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


IntroductionThe Australian prehospital profession has not yet facilitated a comprehensive discussion regarding paramedic role and responsibility during disasters. Whether paramedics have a duty to treat under extreme conditions and what acceptable limitations may be placed on such a duty require urgent consideration. The purpose of this research is to encourage discussion within the paramedic profession and broader community on this important ethical and legal issue.MethodsThe authors employed qualitative methods to gather paramedic and community member perspectives in Victoria, Australia.ResultsThese findings suggested that both paramedic and community member participants agree that acceptable limitations on paramedic duty to treat during disaster are required. These limitations should be based on consideration of the following factors: personal health circumstances (eg, pregnancy for female paramedics); pre-existing mental health conditions (eg, posttraumatic stress disorder/PTSD); competing personal obligations (eg, paramedics who are single parents); and unacceptable levels of personal risk (eg, risk of exposure and infection during a pandemic).ConclusionIt is only with the engagement of a more broadly representative segment of the prehospital profession and greater Australian community that appropriate guidance on limiting standards of care under extreme conditions can be developed and integrated within prehospital care in Australia.Smith E, Burkle FM Jr., Gebbie K, Ford D, Bensimon C. Acceptable limitations on paramedic duty to treat during disaster: a qualitative exploration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalPrehospital and Disaster Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • disasters
  • duty to treat
  • Emergency Medical Services
  • paramedic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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