While COVID-19 brings unprecedented challenges to the US healthcare system, understanding narratives of historical disasters illuminates ethical complexities shared with COVID-19. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina revealed a lack of disaster preparation and protocol, not dissimilar to the challenges faced by COVID-19 healthcare workers. A case study of Memorial Hospital during Hurricane Katrina reported by journalist-MD Sheri Fink reveals unique ethical challenges at the forefront of health crises. These challenges include disproportionate suffering in structurally vulnerable populations, as seen in COVID-19 where marginalised groups across the USA experience higher rates of disease and COVID-19-related death. Journalistic accounts of Katrina and COVID-19 offer unique perspectives on the ethical challenges present within medicine and society, and analysis of such stories reveals narrative trajectories anticipated in the aftermath of COVID-19. Through lenses of social suffering and structural violence, these narratives reinforce the need for systemic change, including legal action, ethical preparedness and physician protection to ensure high-quality care during times of crises. Narrative Medicine—as a practice of interrogating stories in medicine and re-centering the patient—offers a means to contextualise individual accounts of suffering during health crises in larger social matrices.
- medical humanities
- medical ethics/bioethics
- narrative medicine
- philosophy of medicine/health care
Data availability statement
No data are available. This is a narrative analysis of journalistic accounts using narrative medicine. There are no data associated with this manuscript.
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