Ethical Questions Swarm the Ebola Crisis
Written by: Leah Jeunnette, Ph.D.(c)
The African Ebola crisis has dominated headlines for the last few weeks. Alarm rose in the US when it became known that two American missionaries had contracted the disease and were coming to Atlanta for treatment. People reacted strongly. Ebola . . . here, in the USA!
In cases like this, there is so much incomplete information readily available from an often-sensationalizing media that we don’t know what to believe. It becomes hard to distinguish fact from fiction, and informed opinion (based on undisclosed evidence or privileged information) from theory.
Many people question bringing the two Americans who have Ebola into the US. It is safe? Does it put Americans at risk? And why are these individuals receiving this, otherwise unavailable, treatment anyway? It needs to be well understood that the treatment they are receiving is highly experimental (outcome and side effects uncertain), not previously tested on humans, and available in very limited quantities
From an ethics perspective, big issues loom now and going forward: resource allocation/prioritization, experimental research on vulnerable populations (who can forget Tuskegee?!), therapeutic misconception, informed consent, etc., etc. . . . .
These issues won’t be easily resolved, but you can bet that now Ebola is making US headlines and riveting the attention of Americans, more studies with quickly move to the forefront, and clinical trials will become another source of controversy.
Stay tuned: the World Health Organization is convening a panel of ethicists to discuss possible research studies.