Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

THE ETHICS OF DISASTER RELIEF

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, Santa Clara University
(Posted 1/2002)

ISSUE:

How can we ensure that all disaster relief funds for the September 11 tragedy are managed and distributed equitably? What criteria should be used to make decisions on how much aid eligible people will receive?

CONTEXT:

Donations for September 11 disaster relief efforts totaled more than $1.5 Billion, as of December 14, 2001 (Source: The Foundation Center: http://www.fdncenter.org). The American Red Cross, the major recipient of these contributions, offered humanitarian assistance and other immediate relief in keeping with its core mission.

The United States Congress also established an $11 billion open-ended federal fund to provide relief compensation to all the September 11 victims and their families. Kenneth Feinberg, the special master appointed to dispense damage awards under this fund, created a system for dispersing relief reflecting the victims’ economic losses and such hardships as lost companionship and emotional suffering.

Many questions have been raised regarding the allocation of these relief funds. Should private charitable contributions be restricted only to the September 11 victims, or should some funds be set aside for future relief efforts? Should private aid funds be subtracted from any award given by the federal government? What about insurance payments? Pensions for firefighters and police? Are civilian victims’ families less 'deserving' of the federal funds than those of public service personnel? Are those who earned more entitled to more in compensation from the government?

This paper analyzes these ethical considerations, which could set a precedent for future decisions by other relief organizations and the federal government. Specifically, this analysis assesses arguments for allocating relief based primarily on four criteria: economic impact/loss, pain and suffering experienced, real need, and role in the community.

CRITERIA FOR ETHICAL DECISION-MAKING:

(For more detailed information on this framework, please visit the following web-site: http://www.scu.edu/ethics/thinking.html)

  1. UTILITARIAN APPROACH

  2. RIGHTS APPROACH

  3. FAIRNESS OR JUSTICE APPROACH

  4. COMMON-GOOD APPROACH

  5. VIRTUES APPROACH

  6. LEADING WEB RESOURCES

1. UTILITARIAN APPROACH

Which option will produce the most good and do the least harm?

ALLOCATION OPTION

BENEFITS

HARM

1. By economic impact (i.e., based on lost earnings)

  • Provides uniform economic measure for allocation of relief aid

  • Compensates families based on probable losses according to established legal precedent

  • Victims with low earning power as well as unemployed victims will receive lesser aid. An extra dollar of aid for a poor person would be worth more than an extra dollar for a wealthy person.

  • Also, high-earnings victims might have employed spouses and insurance plans that could compensate for lost earnings

  • Applies a punitive, tort-based formula to a situation where those at fault are not those paying the compensation

2. By pain and suffering experienced by victims

  • Compensates using a compassionate measure based on duration and severity of suffering

  • It is difficult to quantify and compare suffering accurately leading to errors in judgment

  • There could be frivolous claims of suffering that may have to be supported by taxpayers

3. By need (taking into account the current wealth of victims and their families)

  • Compensates people (especially low-income, unemployed victims) based on their real economic and emotional needs; maximizes good done

  • Increases aid available to the really needy by compensating less, those with other resources

  • Already wealthy victims or their families may receive little or no aid. Does not recognize their "loss" of future income.

4. By role in the community

  • Compensates based on heroism, selfless sacrifice, and life-long community service. Uniformed personnel (such as firefighters) will be compensated for their public sacrifice

  • Provides incentive for public service by assuring public workers that their families will be taken care of

  • Uniformed personnel most likely have government supported pension plans and insurance to help their families, which many civilian victims may not have

  • Civilian victims may have displayed as much courage and patriotism as the uniformed personnel

  • Disproportionate relief to uniformed services makes less funds available for all other victims

2. RIGHTS APPROACH

Which option protects the rights and dignity of all stakeholders?

RIGHT AFFECTED

SAMPLE ARGUMENTS

1. Right to be treated equally by the government

  • Victims from all sectors of society should receive equal government aid, regardless of income or profession

  • Government aid should equalize total aid given to victims by giving more to those who get less private aid

2. Right of freedom of choice for donors

  • Donors’ wishes and sentiments to aid specific victims should be honored fully, even if that means giving disproportionate aid to certain groups

  • However, if the needs of one group of victims have been fully met, donors should be given a chance to redirect aid to other needy groups of their choice

3. FAIRNESS OR JUSTICE APPROACH

Which option treats all people consistently unless there is a morally justifiable reason for treating them differently?

OPTIONS/ACTIONS

SAMPLE ARGUMENTS

 

FOR

AGAINST

1. By economic impact

  • Families of high-income workers have suffered greater economic loss than low-income families did, and should be compensated for it.
  • Low-income and unemployed victims will get lless relief, regardless of their need
  • 2. By pain and suffering experienced

    • The suffering experienced is probably as valid as the fact of death itself in determining aid
  • It is impossible to determine how much each victim actually suffered
  • Surviving victims may be compensated disproportionately higher because they can communicate their experiences directly
  • Benefits paid to families of deceased victims do not actually compensate the victims themselves.
  • 3. By need

    • The need for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and the education of children is the fairest way to distribute aid
    • Aid will not be wasted on those who do not need it, since this approach can take into account total aid received from all other sources, such as life insurance
  • The use of aid as the criterion may lead to a significant lowering of the standard of living for higher income victims and families, and raising the future standard for lower income victims to levels above 9/11 levels
  • 4. By role in the community

    • It is fairest to reward uniformed personnel for their career of service to others and their specific sacrifice in this case.
  • Civilian victims may not get as much compensation as uniformed victims despite their possibly higher needs and/or their own acts of courage
  • 4. COMMON-GOOD APPROACH

    Which option promotes the common good and helps all participate more fully in the goods we share as a society?

    SAMPLE ARGUMENTS

    1. Some relief funds must be reserved for future disasters, as long as the immediate needs of the victims and their families are met. This could help the community as a whole in any future disasters, when fund raising may not be as successful.
    2. Some relief funds should be diverted to local charities and other natural disasters, whose fund-raising has been hurt this year, as long as the immediate needs of the Sept. 11 victims and their families are met.
    3. The common good and trust in the distribution of aid requires careful tracking, accounting, and oversight of all relief funds. Whatever criteria are selected eventually must be applied diligently to this distribution process with substantial transparency. Trust also requires honoring the donors’ wishes.

    5. VIRTUES APPROACH

    Which option would enable the deepening or development of those virtues or character traits that we value as individuals? as a society?

    SAMPLE ARGUMENTS

    1. Donors’ wishes should be honored fully to encourage future compassion and philanthropy. Assessments need to be made through comprehensive surveys to evaluate whether all these fund allocation efforts have encouraged more charitable giving from people or not.
    2. Aid should be allocated primarily by need to encourage the public to be compassionate towards the poor.
    3. Allocating relief aid based on exposure to suffering and pain could increase public awareness and empathy towards those who suffered in these disasters, encouraging more preventive efforts.

    9 Leading Web Resources on Ethics of Disaster Relief

    1. "DISASTER GRANTMAKING: A Practical Guide for Foundations and Corporations":
      http://www.cof.org/whatis/types/international/publications/disasterguide.pdf
      (A report providing guidelines and principles on effective disaster management grant-making from the Joint Working Group of the European Foundation Centre and the Council on Foundations.) (11/2001)

    2. "AFP- PUBLIC POLICY - ABOUT GIVING":
      http://www.afpnet.org/public_policy/about_giving
      (The Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) represents 25,000 members in 163 chapters in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, working to advance philanthropy through advocacy, research, education, and certification programs. AFP was formerly NSFRE (National Society of Fund Raising Executives.)
    3. SEPTEMBER 11 VICTIM COMPENSATION FUND OF 2001
      http://www.usdoj.gov/victimcompensation
      (Information from the federal government on the fund and its allocation.)
    4. "CHANGING FUNDRAISING STRATEGIES AFTER SEPTEMBER 11":
      http://www.nsfre.org/tier3_cd.cfm?folder_id=887&content_item_id=3946
      (An article analyzing the impact of the Sept. 11 tragedy on the fundraising community from the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).)

    5. "How Much Charitable Funds Have Raised and Distributed for September 11 Recovery Efforts": http://www.philanthropy.com/free/update/2001/12/2001120601.htm
      (An article on the donations and usage of Sept. 11 relief funds, from The Chronicle of Philanthropy, the primary newspaper of the nonprofit world and a key news source in print and online, for charity leaders, fund-raisers, grant makers, and other people involved in the philanthropic enterprise. (December 6, 2001)

    6. "Myths and Facts: How Your Money Is Being Spent"
      http://www.redcross.org/news/ds/0109wtc/donationwork/myths.html
      (An article from the American Red Cross attempting to dispel myths on their usage of relief funds.) (10/31/2001)

    7. "9/11 Response: 9/11 Disaster Relief and Recovery Resources": http://fdncenter.org/pnd/disasterrelief/index.jhtml
      (A special briefing from The Foundation Center, tracking the philanthropic response to 9/11 relief. Founded in 1956, the Center is the nation's leading authority on institutional philanthropy and is dedicated to serving grantseekers, grantmakers, researchers, policymakers, the media, and the general public.)

    8. "SEPTEMBER 11: THE PHILANTHROPIC RESPONSE": http://www.crcmn.org/donorinfo/disaster.htm
      (An analysis of the ethics of fund-raising and usage by relief organizations pertaining to the September 11 relief funds, from The Charities Review Council, a Minnesota-wide nonprofit, independent organization that develops accountability standards for charities, and then carries out in-depth reviews based on those standards. It has been in business since 1946.) (Revised: 12/07/01)
    9. "Charities Form Group to Coordinate September 11 Relief Efforts": http://fdncenter.org/pnd/news/story.jhtml?id=3600077

    (An article from the Philanthropy News Digest (News originated from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal) reporting on the formation of a coalition of a dozen charities to coordinate relief efforts and eventually track aid to victims.) (12/14/01)