Bioethics for Breakfast: Fear and Loathing: Ethical and Effective State Responses to Ebola

Bioethics for Breakfast Seminars in Medicine, Law and Society

bioethics-for-breakfastMatthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP and Leonard Fleck, PhD, presented at Thursday morning’s Bioethics for Breakfast event, offering opposing views on the topic, “Fear and Loathing: Ethical and Effective State Responses to Ebola.”

In the early days of the AIDS virus, public fears generated extreme public policies – including quarantine proposals. Today we would regard those responses as seriously inappropriate and disproportionate to what we know to be true about AIDS contagion. Are we at risk of making similar mistakes regarding Ebola? What are optimal ethical policies, and strategies for communicating about Ebola to be used by public officials that would effectively protect public safety, stave off panic, and ensure a measured response?

The speakers for this session addressed tensions in navigating the delicate ethical balance needed to protect/but not unduly alarm and which take into consideration the multiple stakeholders. How much should officials emphasize what they know with certainty vs. uncertainty? What sorts of actions are ethically defensible and how then should those actions be communicated? What are the limits to medical care providers’ duty to care?

Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP
Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, is Chief Medical Executive at the Michigan Department of Community Health; Professor of Pediatrics and Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, and Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan. Dr. Davis has focused his research on three major areas of health policy: vaccines and vaccine financing, regulation and financing of government-sponsored health programs, and characterization of public attitudes and opinions about health and health policy. He trained in public policy and health services research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar and Irving Harris Child Policy Fellow at the University of Chicago.

Leonard Fleck, PhD
Leonard Fleck, PhD, is a Professor of Philosophy and Medical Ethics in the Philosophy Department and the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences at Michigan State University. He is a past recipient of the University Distinguished Faculty Award. Dr. Fleck served on the State of Michigan Emergency Preparedness Taskforce. He will discuss ethics issues related to managing infectious diseases such as Ebola as they emerge in a clinical context. For example, should any nurse or physician be allowed to refuse to care for an Ebola patient, despite having available all the protective equipment and practices that ought to assure their safety? Should a hospital have as a policy refusing to do CPR on an Ebola patient in order to protect hospital personnel?

About Bioethics for Breakfast:
In 2010, Hall, Render, Killian, Heath & Lyman invited the Center for Ethics to partner on a bioethics seminar series. The Center for Ethics and Hall Render invite guests from the health professions, religious and community organizations, political circles, and the academy to engage in lively discussions of topics spanning the worlds of bioethics, health law, business, and policy. For each event, the Center selects from a wide range of controversial issues and provides two presenters either from our own faculty or invited guests, who offer distinctive, and sometimes clashing, perspectives. Those brief presentations are followed by a moderated open discussion.