Ethics for pandemics beyond influenza: Ebola, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and anticipating future ethical challenges in pandemic preparedness and response

Monash Bioethics Review 33 (2-3):130-147 (2015)
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Abstract

The unprecedented outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa has raised several novel ethical issues for global outbreak preparedness. It has also illustrated that familiar ethical issues in infectious disease management endure despite considerable efforts to understand and mitigate such issues in the wake of past outbreaks. To improve future global outbreak preparedness and response, we must examine these shortcomings and reflect upon the current state of ethical preparedness. To this end, we focus our efforts in this article on the examination of one substantial area: ethical guidance in pandemic plans. We argue that, due in part to their focus on considerations arising specifically in relation to pandemics of influenza origin, pandemic plans and their existing ethical guidance are ill-equipped to anticipate and facilitate the navigation of unique ethical challenges that may arise in other infectious disease pandemics. We proceed by outlining three reasons why this is so, and situate our analysis in the context of the EVD outbreak and the threat posed by drug-resistant tuberculosis: different infectious diseases have distinct characteristics that challenge anticipated or existing modes of pandemic prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery, clear, transparent, context-specific ethical reasoning and justification within current influenza pandemic plans are lacking, and current plans neglect the context of how other significant pandemics may manifest. We conclude the article with several options for reflecting upon and ultimately addressing ethical issues that may emerge with different infectious disease pandemics.

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Maxwell Smith
University of Western Ontario