• Open Access

Law, ethics and pandemic preparedness: the importance of cross-jurisdictional and cross-cultural perspectives


Correspondence to:
Professor Belinda Bennett, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006. Fax: (02) 9351 0200; e-mail belinda.bennett@sydney.edu.au


Objective: To explore social equity, health planning, regulatory and ethical dilemmas in responding to a pandemic influenza (H5N1) outbreak, and the adequacy of protocols and standards such as the International Health Regulations (2005).

Approach: This paper analyses the role of legal and ethical considerations for pandemic preparedness, including an exploration of the relevance of cross-jurisdictional and cross-cultural perspectives in assessing the validity of goals for harmonisation of laws and policies both within and between nations. Australian and international experience is reviewed in various areas, including distribution of vaccines during a pandemic, the distribution of authority between national and local levels of government, and global and regional equity issues for poorer countries.

Conclusion: This paper finds that questions such as those of distributional justice (resource allocation) and regulatory frameworks raise important issues about the cultural and ethical acceptability of planning measures. Serious doubt is cast on a ‘one size fits all’ approach to international planning for managing a pandemic. It is concluded that a more nuanced approach than that contained in international guidelines may be required if an effective response is to be constructed internationally.

Implications: The paper commends the wisdom of reliance on ‘soft law’, international guidance that leaves plenty of room for each nation to construct its response in conformity with its own cultural and value requirements.