There have been more than 1,400 declared federal disasters in the United States alone within the last 10 years.1 “Disaster” lacks a specific definition; however, in the medical and health care contexts, it is characterized by an acute increase in demand for medical services far above normal levels, frequently associated with a decreased ability to provide these medical services. In most cases, the decreased ability to provide these services results from a lack of personnel, supplies, suitable facilities or a combination of these factors.

The 1847 Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association (AMA) was the first national code of ethics for any profession. It instructed physicians that “… when pestilence prevails, it is their duty to face the danger, and to continue their labors for the alleviation of the suffering, even at the jeopardy of their...

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