Dr. Sheri Fink is a former reporter at ProPublica, where her story “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,” co-published by ProPublica and the New York Times Magazine, received a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting and a National Magazine Award for reporting. The story was the basis for her New York Times bestselling book, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital (Crown, 2013), about choices made in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction, the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for nonfiction, the Ridenhour Book Prize, and the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, among others.
Dr. Fink is currently a correspondent at the New York Times, where her and her colleagues’ stories on the West Africa Ebola crisis were recognized with the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting, the George Polk Award for health reporting, and the Overseas Press Club Hal Boyle Award. A former relief worker in disaster and conflict zones, Dr. Fink received her M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University. Her first book, War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival (PublicAffairs), is about medical professionals under siege during the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Few hospitals drill for radiological emergencies, and agencies aren't prepared to handle mass evacuations. Many states don't even have a basic plan for communicating with the public after a catastrophic radiological release.
In the United States, patients with kidney failure have access to life-saving dialysis treatments paid for by Medicare. But in less-affluent countries like South Africa, medical professionals rely on rationing. At Tygerberg Academic Hospital near Cape Town, a jury of doctors is making life-and-death choices based not only on a patient's medical condition but social factors such as living conditions and the patient's support network.
The U.S. government has brought needed medical services to thousands of Haitian earthquake survivors. But a bureaucratic tangle has left some people struggling to find out what happened to family members who were taken away for treatment.
Some states have begun to grapple with a serious public health issue: Which patients should be given access to lifesaving treatments if more people need it than the system can handle? The issue of effectively deciding who should live and who should die is anathema to physicians whose main job is to save lives.
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