Bioethics Blogs

Ebola ethics

Interesting to see the kinds of attention that has been given to the most recent Ebola outbreak in Africa. Part of the reason is that it is a serious epidemic, causing nearly a thousand deaths so far, and it is occurring in West Africa, rather than its usual stomping ground of the Democratic Republic of Congo and thereabouts. Another reason is that some Americans overseas have been infected, and medically evacuated back home, so the story involves not only the familiar ‘death exoticism’ of faraway anonymous Africans, but has a US domestic component as well.

Perhaps because it involves American citizens, bioethicists have been more active in commenting on the ethics of Ebola control than they were during outbreaks of times past. Two of the infected Americans have been treated with an experimental Ebola drug, the access to treatment being aided and abetted by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control no less. Bioethicists, chronic worriers that we apparently are, worry about this development. If the drug has not been FDA approved, how do we know that it is safe and effective? Even if the conditions of the American patients improve, how do we know whether the drug itself is responsible, if no rigorous clinical trial has been conducted? Why would people continue to join clinical studies if they could gain access to experimental drugs outside the FDA’s vetting system?

All fine and good, as worries go. But I wonder what would happen if the Ebola outbreak happened in Louisiana rather than Liberia.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.