Bioethics Blogs

Lessons from Ebola: Presidential Bioethics Commission Releases Recommendations on Preparedness for Public Health Emergencies

This week the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released a brief, Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, to the administration and the public on ethical preparedness for public health emergency response, with a focus on the U.S. response to the current Ebola epidemic in western Africa. The brief considers what lessons the U.S. response to the epidemic has for ethics preparedness for future public health emergencies, emphasizing the role of proactive democratic deliberation in developing responses that reflect public values in a pluralistic society and an increasingly interconnected world. The brief also considers two areas of particular controversy: 1) the ethical use of liberty-restricting public health measures, such as quarantine; and 2) the ethical conduct of research during public health emergencies.

In this brief the Bioethics Commission endorsed the ongoing participation of the United States in the global response to the Ebola epidemic for both ethical and prudential reasons. Public health crises like the Ebola epidemic often occur in countries and communities least equipped to manage and control them. The magnitude of suffering caused by these crises, and global inequalities in wealth and power that contribute to them, provide a strong moral imperative grounded in humanitarianism and justice to contribute to response efforts. In addition, given the capacity of infectious diseases to travel easily in an interconnected world, addressing epidemics at their source is justified on prudential grounds. Safeguarding national health security provides a strong pragmatic reason to respond to public health emergencies where they occur, and to support ongoing efforts to strengthen capacity and public health infrastructure in affected areas.

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.