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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

New Paper Announcement: Addressing Ethical Dilemmas in Public Health Emergency Communication

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new commentary by Federico Germani, Giovanni Spitale, and Nikola Biller-Andorno. The paper, titled «Beyond Trade-Offs: Autonomy, Effectiveness, Fairness, and Normativity in Risk and Crisis Communication» (Full Text), is a critical response to the discussions generated by their previous work on the Public Health Emergency Risk and Crisis Communication (PHERCC) framework.

The PHERCC framework, originally detailed in «The PHERCC Matrix. An Ethical Framework for Planning, Governing, and Evaluating Risk and Crisis Communication in the Context of Public Health Emergencies» (Full Text), addresses the ethical complexities of crisis communication. It focuses on balancing individual autonomy, communication effectiveness, and fairness, especially under conditions of public health emergencies.

In their latest paper, the authors respond to critiques that highlight the ethical challenges of promoting transparency without stigmatizing vulnerable populations, using the example of the mpox outbreak among men who have sex with men. They emphasize the framework's flexibility in tailoring messages to various audiences to mitigate stigmatization and misinformation.

By integrating community engagement and feedback, the PHERCC framework aims to optimize communication strategies while addressing ethical concerns. This approach seeks to minimize trade-offs and enhance the acceptance and effectiveness of public health messages.

Abstract
This paper addresses the critiques based on trade-offs and normativity presented in response to our target article proposing the Public Health Emergency Risk and Crisis Communication (PHERCC) framework. These critiques highlight the ethical dilemmas in crisis communication, particularly the balance between promoting public autonomy through transparent information and the potential stigmatization of specific population groups, as illustrated by the discussion of the mpox outbreak among men who have sex with men. This critique underscores the inherent tension between communication effectiveness and autonomy versus fairness and equity. In response, our paper reiterates the adaptability of the PHERCC framework, emphasizing its capacity to tailor messages to diverse audiences, thereby reducing potential stigmatization and misinformation. Through community engagement and feedback integration, the PHERCC framework aims to optimize the effectiveness of communication strategies while addressing ethical concerns. Furthermore, by involving affected communities in the communication strategy from the onset, the framework seeks to minimize ethical trade-offs and enhance the acceptance and effectiveness of public health messages.

Full text