Topic – Part of the series of case studies on ethics.
6) The Drinking Water Monitoring Programme initially detected the presence of a chemical pollutant in the well supplying a coastal resort whose economy was based primarily on tourism. The analysis results showed a level of contamination that exceeded the limits established in the applicable legislation. After taking fresh samples and analysing these, the results were confirmed and recorded in the regional Water Quality Information System. The public health officer responsible for testing this supply issued a report in which, despite recognizing that the limits established by law had been exceeded, he stated that consumption of water from the well did not pose an imminent, extraordinary threat to the health of the population. Despite this, the technical report concluded with a proposal to take the precautionary measure of closing the well and informing the population about the ongoing situation. Upon receipt of the technical report, the health authority with competence for adoption of the precautionary measure evaluated the scale of the violation, its imminent impact on the health of the affected population, the economic impact on the locality of closing the well, and the social alarm that this would cause at the start of the tourist season. Following this, it met with the public health management team to inform it of its decision not to ratify the proposed precautionary measure in view of the fact that, having taken into consideration the other public interests at stake, it took the view that it was preferable that the well should continue to supply the population with drinking water while alternative solutions were sought. When the officer responsible for monitoring the supply was informed by his management that, despite the report, the proposed measure would not be adopted, he asked himself what he should do.
- Discuss the ethical issues involved in the above situation? (250 words)
Discuss- This is an all-encompassing directive which mandates us to write in detail about the key demand of the question.
Structure of the answer
Discuss individually the ethical issues involved in the question. E.g
- Protection of public health: Protecting the health of the population, an intrinsic value of the greatest importance, is not just an ethical imperative for health authorities but also a legal obligation.
- Information: Citizens have the right to be informed about factors that affect individual and population health and, in particular, significant biological, chemical and environmental hazards, together with their potential impact on health. Information enables the population to exercise its freedom of choice.
- Transparency: Transparency is an essential aspect of health information. Both from an ethical and from a legal perspective, public health actions must be clear and comprehensible for the general population, so that citizens can exercise their autonomy when making decisions on the basis of the information provided.
- Precaution: The existence of clear evidence of a potentially serious impact on the health of the population, even where there is scientific uncertainty regarding the nature of the risk, places the competent authorities under an obligation to decide whether to suspend or restrict the activity. Failure to do so would violate the principle of nonmaleficence.
- Legality: the public authorities are obliged by this principle to comply with the applicable legislation, without exception.
- Hierarchy: Hierarchy in public health organizations is expressed through the principle of competence. Political decision-makers and technical staff have different spheres of competence and their fields of action are clearly delimited. Violating this principle of hierarchy or competence has both ethical and legal consequences. Action taken by those who lack the competence to do so is invalid, and all those involved in public health must therefore act within their powers. Hierarchical competence is related in this case to the principle of justice in the widest sense etc.
Read the document attached to the question carefully and frame your answer accordingly.