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June 12, 2024

Pandemic flu policies reviewed at HUBS event

By SAMHITA ILANGO | December 6, 2012

“Let’s imagine that tonight there is a pandemic flu, and everyone is affected," Ishan Dasgupta said, beginning the evening at “Who Should Live in a Pandemic Flu? You Decide,” an event hosted by the Hopkins Undergraduate Bioethics Society (HUBS) last Thursday.

The unique event revolved around a collaborative idea of Hopkins’ Berman Institute and Bloomberg School of Public Health, Maryland’s Department of Health, and the Center of Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The project is a social experiment in which the public decides who would and who wouldn’t be kept alive during a pandemic crisis with limited resources.

“The ultimate goal is to create a strategic plan to see how Maryland would take action in a pandemic,” Dasgupta, a class of 2010 alumnus and current student at Berman, said. “There are ethicists and doctors and statisticians, but what do the people have to say? We are helping policy makers make better decisions.” Having been the president of HUBS back when he was an undergraduate, Dasgupta is staying connected with his alma mater.

By consulting many groups across Maryland, the collaborators hope to come to a conclusion that could help the state take appropriate action in the case of such a pandemic. “We decided to hold focus groups all over various parts of Maryland to get a wide variety of opinions. Coming here was to get the undergraduate point of view,” Dasgupta said.

At the event, Dasgupta began by defining the setting. “Everyone is affected [by the pandemic flu]. Ventilators are the only things that can save you. But there are only so many ventilators. You will die without them. So who gets to live?”

Dasgupta then proposed four different deciphering factors that could help differentiate between those who would get to live and those who wouldn’t. The first scenario was defined as first come, first serve; those who got to the ventilators first would be designated as survivors. The second scenario revolved around the idea that those chosen to receive ventilators where those who were more likely to survive. The third revolved around the idea that that people with better medical history would receive the ventilators. And lastly, the fourth scenario claimed that the youngest would always obtain the respirator.

After each scenario was briefly presented, attendees split into groups of three to four people with a mediator and debated the four proposals.

Nathan Risinger of the Berman Institute mediated the medical history scenario. “Do we make a distinction in terms of family medical history? Are you excused or exempt? Where should the line be drawn?” he asked.

The participants debating the scenario were vocal with their opinions. “I think determining medical history is a gray area... In terms of deciding, it’s a lot of energy wasted. Who is less worthy because they made a bad choice at an early age? Shouldn’t people be rewarded for being healthy?” freshman Katarina Nguyen said.

Questions and responses like these stimulated the rest of the 10-minute rotations through each of the four topics.

Dasgupta said that the focus groups are being held all over Maryland. “In our East Baltimore meeting, we had about 50 to 60 participants. In Columbia, we had about 30 to 40. We want to test a diverse population so we can help Maryland create effective policy.”

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