Priorities

Dr. Jeff Barrows

Dr. Jeff Barrows

Jeff Barrows, D.O., M.A. (bioethics) has been working on the front lines of health and human trafficking for over a decade. He is currently the Vice President of Education and Advocacy at Abolition International. It is my pleasure to welcome him as a guest on this blog.

Readers of this blog are no doubt familiar with the fact that human trafficking is both horrific and epidemic. As word spreads of this form of modern day slavery, people are rising up to form new organizations and groups across the globe to address the problem. These organizations and groups are also coming together to form various coalitions to address human trafficking on a local and regional basis. These efforts are critical for us to be able to appreciably lessen the incidence of human trafficking in the world today.

However, as these coalitions come together to address human trafficking on a local and regional level, they often lack a unified prioritized response. Limited money and resources are being used without proper planning and prioritization. A shotgun approach is more common than a well-planned targeted response.

This is where the discipline of ethics is extremely helpful. Decisions regarding how to prioritize limited funds and resources in the fight against human trafficking should be made with an ethical foundation. 

One of the few ethical principles that most of us in healthcare remember from our time in school is “first do no harm”. It is the principle of non-maleficence.  As the phrase points out…not doing harm to a patient is a fundamental priority.

Non-maleficence trumps beneficence.

If you are walking down the street and see someone attacking a woman while at the same time you are approached by a homeless person, who are you going to help? Are you going to turn your attention away from the woman being attacked to respond to the homeless person? Hopefully not. Your ethical responsibility lies first with helping the woman in immediate danger. Yes, you can eventually help both, but not at the same time.

Non-maleficence trumps beneficence.

This same principle of non-maleficence should guide us in setting our priorities as we respond to the horrors of human trafficking.

First, stop all harm.

In other words, as we respond to the universal reality of human trafficking with limited resources, high on our priority should be finding and freeing current victims. We have an ethical obligation to do what we can to stop all ongoing harm.

All too often I see educational efforts focusing more on prevention than upon rescue. Prevention should be an important part of the response to human trafficking, but do we really want to give educating every junior high student in our area on human trafficking the same level of priority as educating healthcare professionals? Research has shown that between 50-88% of human trafficking victims encounter a healthcare professional while they are being trafficked. Healthcare professionals are not only encountering these victims, they are in a unique position to often be able to help free them. Unfortunately, studies also show that less than 3% of emergency room personnel have ever received formal training on human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims are being missed within healthcare due to lack of education.

Let’s get our priorities right…educating healthcare professionals to identify and free current victims of trafficking should have priority over educating low risk students.

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2 thoughts on “Priorities

  1. I’m a ICU/ER Registered Nurse & also a Labor/Sex Human Trafficking victim (underlying cause is terrorism). My case is really really bad. US Congressman Henry Cueller’s Mission Texas office looked into my entire case and told me the only help I was going to get was from ICE.

    Therefore I get discriminated, yelled at and punished by most other law enforcement. Many nurses are married to “corrupt cops,” and I often get abused at work under “sting operations.” I try travel nursing hoping that if I went to a new city or state the next place won’t be as evil as the last but that never appears to be the situation. Being homeless is common.

    My entire family is missing already including my mother a retired Registered Nurse. All of this seems very acceptable to every health care professional I encounter, leaving me little to no respect for my own profession. .

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