Ebola and Learning Lessons from Moral Failures: Who Cares about Ethics?

Public Health Ethics 8 (3):305-318 (2015)
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The exercise of identifying lessons in the aftermath of a major public health emergency is of immense importance for the improvement of global public health emergency preparedness and response. Despite the persistence of the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in West Africa, it seems that the Ebola ‘lessons learned’ exercise is now in full swing. On our assessment, a significant shortcoming plagues recent articulations of lessons learned, particularly among those emerging from organizational reflections. In this article we argue that, despite not being recognized as such, the vast majority of lessons proffered in this literature should be understood as ethical lessons stemming from moral failures, and that any improvements in future global public health emergency preparedness and response are in large part dependent on acknowledging this fact and adjusting priorities, policies and practices accordingly such that they align with values that better ensure these moral failures are not repeated and that new moral failures do not arise. We cannot continue to fiddle at the margins without critically reflecting on our repeated moral failings and committing ourselves to a set of values that engenders an approach to global public health emergencies that embodies a sense of solidarity and global justice



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Maxwell Smith
University of Western Ontario