Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response

Ebola virusIn February, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released a report titled, Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response. Although the Ebola epidemic in western Africa no longer dominates national news headlines, issues concerning Ebola and its ethical implications remain relevant. This relevancy is based on the need to acknowledge and integrate a morally acceptable public health response to the disease. Not only does the U.S. government have a responsibility to U.S. citizens in regards to Ebola and ethics readiness, but there also exists the responsibility of the government to contribute to ethics preparedness on a global scale.

In the Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response report, “…the Bioethics Commission offers seven recommendations to improve domestic and global public health response capabilities and to ensure that specific aspects of emergency response, including the use of restrictive measures such as quarantine, and research conducted during an emergency, are guided by the highest ethical standards and robust public deliberation.” These seven recommendations include the following abbreviated versions of the proposed suggestions:

  1. “In an interconnected world, for ethical reasons and to protect national interests, the U.S. government has a responsibility to engage in preparedness and to participate in coordinated global responses to public health emergencies. […]
  2. The United States should strengthen key elements of its domestic and global health emergency response capabilities. […]
  3. Public officials have a responsibility to support public education and communication regarding the nature and justification of public health responses. […]
  4. Ethical principles should be integrated into timely and agile public health decision making processes employed in response to rapidly unfolding epidemics. Qualified public health ethics expertise should be readily available to identify ethical considerations relevant to public health emergencies and responses in light of real-time available evidence. […]
  5. Governments and public health organizations should employ the least restrictive means necessary – on the basis of the best available scientific evidence – in implementing restrictive public health measures, such as quarantines and travel restrictions, intended to control infectious disease spread. […]
  6. Research during the Ebola epidemic should provide all participants with the best supportive care sustainably available in the community in which the research is conducted. […]
  7. The U.S. government should ensure that Ebola virus related biospecimens are obtained ethically, including addressing the challenges of obtaining informed consent during a public health emergency and ensuring adequate privacy protections.”

For summaries of the proposed recommendations in full, make sure to check out the Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response report. Additional information and reports about the Ebola epidemic can be found within the Homeland Security Digital Library. (HSDL log-in may be required.)


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