Since the Bioethics Commission was established through Executive Order in 2009 by President Barack Obama, it has released 10 reports on a variety of ethically challenging topics, including synthetic biology, neuroscience, and whole genome sequencing, among others. The Bioethics Commission is excited to release a new podcast series, Ethically Sound. Each episode features one of the Commission’s reports. Today’s episode, the second in the series, focuses on the Commission’s report Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, which addresses several ethical challenges, including ethical dimensions of public health preparedness, ethical justification for U.S. engagement in global health response, the use of liberty-restricting public health interventions, and selected research ethics issues, that emerged during the response to the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic in western Africa.
This podcast focuses on the use of restrictive measures, such as quarantine and travel restrictions. Upon their return from affected regions, some health care workers were subjected to restrictive measures by state governments and local public health agencies. Restrictive meaures are sometimes necessary during an epidemic in order to maintain public safety. However, some of the measures used during the Ebola epidemic were overly restrictive, and were issued by state governments and public health agencies in response to the public fear that accompanied Ebola, rather than on the best available scientific evidence. The Commission addressed the stigma and discrimination that can accompany public health emergencies, which can be exacerbated by the use of restrictive measures, and reviewed the historical use of such measures in response to other epidemics. The Commission recommended that governments and public health agencies use the least restrictive interven
tions necessary, such that interventions are grounded in the best available scientific evidence, and ensure that both the ethical and evidentiary rationale for these measures is clearly communicated, with particular attention to the needs of those most directly affected.