Ethical challenges in confronting disasters: Some lessons learned
Eric Meslin Ph.D
Founding Director of the Indiana University Center for Bioethics
Eric M. Meslin is the Associate Dean for Bioethics in the Indiana University School of Medicine, and is Professor of Medicine; of Medical & Molecular Genetics; of Bioethics and Law; and of Philosophy. In 2012 he was appointed as Indiana University's first Professor of Bioethics. Among his other leadership positions at IU he directs the Indiana University-Moi University Academic Research Ethics Partnership, an NIH-funded bioethics training program in Eldoret, Kenya; the Bioethics and Subject Advocacy Program of the Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute; and co-directs the Indiana University Center for Law, Ethics and Applied Research in Health Information. Dr. Meslin has more than 150 published articles and book chapters on various topics in bioethics and science and is a co-editor of the Cambridge University Press Bioethics and Law Series,. He has been a member of several boards and including the Institute of Medicine's Committee on Ethical and Scientific Issues in Studying the Safety of Approved Drugs; the Ethics Subcommittee to the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the Board of Directors of Genome Canada.
The 2014 outbreak of Ebola in West Africa caught many by surprise, from local health authorities in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia to officials at the World Health Organization. The results are well documented: thousands killed, health infrastructure destroyed, economic sustainability crippled. Bioethics input was (predictably) swift though (mostly) after the fact. While the impact of bioethics on this Ebola outbreak is still being assessed, the early scorecard shows that input was sought on a range of issues from the design of vaccine trials to calls for reform of the WHO; indeed, the WHO itself consulted widely with bioethicists on a range of these topics. Time will tell whether that was valuable, since this is not the first time bioethics has weighed in public health disasters without seeing appreciable policy reform or new thinking. Using specific examples, this talk will discuss how the 2014 Ebola outbreak can teach bioethics some lessons about ways to have impact beyond ex post facto assessments.