Bioethics Blogs

Susceptible to Ebola, immune to criticism

Karl Marx famously wrote that “… philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” The quote by Marx is sometimes used to bash ‘academics’ in the name of world-changers, men (and women) of enterprise, the ‘hands-on’ types, interveners, implementers, and so on: what we need is action, not thinking! This, of course, this turns Marx into a cartoon. If he knew the shortcomings of thought without action, Marx also recognised the perils of action without thought. Marx was a German philosopher. He thought for a living. But that hasn’t stopped lesser minds from treating action as if it were a good in itself, something we should not distract with reflection or critique. Just do it.

I read today an opinion piece in US Today that brought the above thoughts to mind. In it, Franklin Graham, the head of the evangelical/relief organisation Samaritan Purse, claims that there is no ethical issue involved in providing Dr. Kent Brantly (employee of Samaritan Purse) privileged access to a experimental drug for his Ebola infection. Those who think there are ethics to debate here are merely intellectual elites (‘academics’ , ‘talking heads’ ) far removed from ‘primitive deathbeds’ in Africa, and the ethical debate — politically correct analysis from the cozy confines of America — does nothing to help save people at death’s door. Dr. Brantly, the piece goes on, left the comforts of America to provide medical assistance in Liberia, got infected with Ebola in the process, and what happens when he gets access to the scarce experimental treatment?

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.