Medical Bartering, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction

Scenario #1

PertussisYou’re in a grid down situation. As a registered nurse, you’ve gathered medical supplies for your family that you believe might be life-saving in the event of a calamity.

Cautiously answering a knock at your door, you find a young couple with their infant daughter. Even at first glance you know she is dehydrated. “Can you help her?” the weeping mother cries. “She hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in three days!”

Having the skills and supplies to save her life, how do you respond?

1.  “No,” you say while closing the door, “but you can try the clinic in town.”
2.  “Maybe,” you answer, opening the door a crack, “if you’ll trade for that diamond ring.”
3.  “No, it would be against the law to start an IV without a doctor’s order,” you reply truthfully.
4.  “Possibly,” you say guardedly, “If you can pay $50, the cost of my supplies.”
5.  “Of course,” you respond, believing it is the only moral choice.

What would you trade for the life of your child?

Many questions are raised by the above scenario:
1.  Are you morally obligated to help someone who hasn’t prepared wisely?
2.  Is it right to put your own children at risk by helping another?
3.  Is it ethical to ask for payment or barter in an emergency situation?
4.  Are professionals required to be Good Samaritans?
5.  Would the child’s death be on your conscience?
6.  If you barter, how do you determine the value of something?
7.  Are your skills a barter item?
8.  If someone offers all they have to save their child, is it ethical to take all their worldly goods?
9.  Whom will you help outside your family?
10.  Will you treat strangers differently than friends?
11.  When is the proper time to decide barter arrangements?
12.  Does helping someone make you responsible for the outcome?
13.  Will you share prescription medications?
14.  Is it even legal to share prescription medications and does that matter?
15.  Is demanding a large fee for saving a life ethical?

All these questions and more should be addressed before disaster strikes. You may not come up with an answer for every possible situation, but at least you’ll have a tentative plan.  For a survival group, a written plan is generally better than an informal intention.

In the following series of articles I will be addressing potential barter for medical items and skills, including:
1.  Over-the-counter medications
2.  Prescription medications
3.  Over-the-counter products other than medications
4.  Medical skills

For each topic the relative value of barter items will be addressed, along with real life situations you may well encounter.   If you have a family or larger preparedness group, these would be valuable topics for discussion, which would likely raise further concerns relevant to your own situation.

In Part 2 I will begin by discussing over-the-counter medications possibly suitable for bartering in an emergency situation.

Medical Bartering Part 2

About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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One Response to Medical Bartering, Part 1 of 5 – Introduction

  1. pa4ortho says:

    1. regardless of how fanatical you are none of us are prepared, there is a contingency you are not set for, all your stuff could burn up and be gone in 15 min.
    2. mitigate risk to your family, reverse quarantine is enforced, if not a serious pandemic situation set up Tx areas separate from your house, mitigate risk,
    3. Yes, if you want the labor of another you owe labor
    4. No forced requirement
    5. No – you are not all powerful
    6. free market
    7. yes if others agree it has value
    8. only take a fair amount, leaving others with nothing invites conflict
    9. all I can
    10. I will preferentially treat those who assist me in some way, no time for the lazy, I have no issue with those who were prepared or would work but cannot now.
    11. prior to service when time is available to barter
    12, see #5
    13 yes
    14 not important with no rule of law
    15 see #8


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