BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response and Spanish / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Ethical Decision-Making Under Pressure

Course unit fact file
Unit code HCRI30061
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Humanitarians, disaster responders and medics are often faced with making critical ethical decisions without the time to consider the long-term effects of their actions. Understanding ethical decision-making in a variety of contexts will help students understand their own ethical positionality and will better equip them when making challenging decisions in their future careers. This module provides the ethical foundation for students to understand the ramifications of actions and how wider theoretical concepts surround that process. Students are provided with the theoretical and conceptual tools for analysing past case studies to understand the ethical approach and consider the long-term consequences. 


  • To introduce students to key theoretical and ethical concepts that have shaped disaster management, humanitarian and medical responses. 
  • To reflect on how shifts and changes in the interpretations of these concepts have had important effects on the practices of humanitarianism and disaster management. 
  • To challenge individual ethical understanding and positionality in different contexts.  
  • To foster students’ critical thinking regarding debates and scholarship on IDMHR and global health. 
  • To develop critical analytical and research skills 

Teaching and learning methods

This course is taught by means of one 2 hour lecture and one 1 hour seminar per week. The module will be delivered using lectures, individual/group structured reading, discussion and preparation sessions, and seminars. The study sessions and seminars provide a structured environment for students to initiate and carry out independent and group work.   

Session material including unit handouts, assigned readings and web links will be made available via Blackboard (accessed via the student system).   

Knowledge and understanding

  • To learn the theories and concepts related to ethical decision making in global health, humanitarian and disaster response. 
  • To develop a critical understanding of the primary ethical challenges across the field. 
  • To use this knowledge to develop and explore a personal ethical positionality. 
  • To draw connections between key theoretical concepts and the impact on humanitarian practice.  

Intellectual skills

  • Navigate complex theoretical debates and relate them to events and issues in practice. 
  • Compare and contrast narratives originating from different sources. 
  • Identify different methodologies and/or disciplinary orientations in academic literature. 
  • Reflect upon current events and actors with reference to an ethical perspective 

Practical skills

  • Research skills, including planning, prioritisation of tasks, identification and location of primary and secondary sources, evaluation of findings. 
  • Group presentation skills related to the analysis of an ethical dilemma, construction of arguments, assessment and deployment of evidence. 
  • Participation in seminar discussion and collaborative learning. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Develop interpretation and argumentation skills, both written and oral.  
  • Gain experience of working with others and presenting to peers. 
  • Develop research and project management skills throughout the course.  
  • Develop skills to help them interpret current events. 

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Information Retrieval – ability independently to gather, sift, synthesise and organise material from various sources (including library, electronic and online resources), and to critically evaluate its significance.
Group/team working
Teamwork – recognising and identifying views of others and working constructively with them
Project management
Improving own Learning – ability to improve one's own learning through planning, monitoring, critical reflection, evaluate and adapt strategies for one's learning
Research design - ability to develop and design an independent research project
Presentation – capacity to make a screen cast presentations, using appropriate media for a target audience

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 30%
Report 70%
  • Formative: Tutorial preparation & participation (0%) 
  • Summative: Reflective Poster – Ethical Positionality (30%)
  • Summative :  Case Based Discussion -  Group Presentation  (70%)


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback: On all summative assessments 
  • Formative - Oral feedback: Presentation
  • Formative and summative  - Additional feedback as required in office hours 


Recommended reading

Held, V. (2005) The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political and Global. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Jobe, K. (2011) “Disaster relief in post-earthquake Haiti: Unintended consequences of humanitarian volunteerism”, Travel Medicine and Infectious Disease, 9, pp. 1-5. 

Murphy, S. (2016) “Contemporary Ethical Approaches to the Practice of Assistance and Foundational Accounts of Moral Duty”, in Responsibility in an Interconnected World, Springer, pp. 35-59.  

Redfield, P. (2013) “Chapter 6: The Problem of Triage”, in Life in Crisis: The Ethical Journey of Doctors Without Borders, University of California Press.  

Robinson, F. (1997) “Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory, and International Relations”, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 22, pp. 113-133.  

Rubenstein, J. (2015). Between Samaritans and states the political ethics of humanitarian INGOs, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Schwartz, L. et al (2010) “Ethics in Humanitarian Aid Work: Learning From the Narratives of Humanitarian Health Workers”, AJOB Primary Research, 1(3), pp. 45-54. 

Singer, P. 2004. “Outsiders: Our Obligations to those Beyond our Borders”, in Chaterjee, D. (ed) The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Slim, H. (2015) Humanitarian Ethics: A Guide to the Morality of Aid in War and Disaster, London: Hurst & Company. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Nimesh Dhungana Unit coordinator
Amanda Mccorkindale Unit coordinator

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