Bioethics Blogs

Ebola Outbreak Highlights Questions about Experimental Drug Treatment

Questions regarding the availability and utilization of
experimental drugs for treatment of disease have moved to the forefront
following the apparently successful use of an experimental treatment used for
two American health workers treating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. 

The questions that have been raised include both who such
drugs should be made available to and under what circumstances they should be
made available. An additional consideration is what processes should be put
into place to assure that these decisions are made properly to allow patients
with valid cases to obtain access while protecting ill people from
inappropriate risks and suffering. An additional question which I will not
delve into here is who pays for them. Health insurance does not pay for experimental
treatments so someone else must. First I should clarify exactly what I mean by
an experimental drug. I am referring to drugs that have a scientific rationale
for their use and some scientific basis for believing they might work. I do not
include cockamamie ideas with no reasonable basis simply because somebody
thinks they should be used. I have previously written about physicians who
chose to use unreasonable treatments.

Nevertheless these experimental drugs need to be viewed as
substances which may have a basis for thinking they might work but have not
been proven to work or to provide more benefit than harm.

The two American missionary health workers were provided
with experimental treatments consisting of intravenous infusions of ZMapp.
Zmapp consists of monoclonal antibodies produced in mice which had been exposed
to fragments of the Ebola virus.

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.