The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


ETHICAL CHALLENGES FOR BIOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGISTS WORKING IN MASS FATALITY CONTEXTS

BENJAMIN J. FIGURA.

Forensic Anthropology Unit, Office of Chief Medical Examiner, New York, NY

Saturday 10:30-10:45, Ballroom A Add to calendar

Anthropologists have a long history of involvement in mass fatality incidents, and this involvement has increased substantially in the past two decades as the value of our expertise in archaeology, osteology, and even cultural issues, have been recognized. With a higher level of involvement in events that can be highly publicized and emotionally charged, this paper will present and discuss potential ethical issues that biological anthropologists may face.

Biological anthropologists may be involved in four different aspects of the response to a mass fatality incident: field, morgue, antemortem data collection, and identification operations. Each of these areas will be presented and the ethical questions that can arise will be discussed. Examples of questions include: Is it appropriate to allow families of the missing/deceased to visit the disaster scene and when should this occur? How should family notification be handled in regards to the identification of fragmented remains over a long period of time? What questions are appropriate to ask during the antemortem data collection process? Case examples will be drawn from personal experience in multiple mass fatality responses from around the world including the World Trade Center, the Boxer Day Tsunami, and Hurricane Katrina.

It is hoped that biological anthropologists who have or may participate in the response to a mass fatality incident will gain some insight into the ethical complexities of these incidents so they may be better equipped to handle them as they arise.

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