To clarify issues about the ethics of treating Ebola that have been circulating over the past several weeks, Alta Charo joined The Daily Circuit. She's a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a former senior policy advisor on emerging technology issues at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
1. Why were the American Ebola patients the only ones given the serum?
Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, the physician leading the efforts against the outbreak of Ebola in Sierra Leone, was offered the drug. Charo referenced a recent piece in the New York Times that explains the situation:
Would the drug, known as ZMapp, help the stricken doctor? Or would it perhaps harm or even kill one of the country's most prominent physicians, a man considered a national hero, shattering the already fragile public trust in international efforts to contain the world's worst Ebola outbreak?
The treatment team, from Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, agonized through the night and ultimately decided not to try the drug. The doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, died a few days later, on July 29.
2. If a drug or a treatment for a contagious or infectious disease is available but limited, who should get access to it?
While we may be troubled with the question, it isn't even a pertinent one for this virus, Charo said.
"The amount of drug available is so small, that many of these questions are more hypothetical than anything else, because the real way to save lives is to prevent the spread of the infection," she said.
3. Is Ebola a threat to national security?
While it has certainly been a prevalent talking point in the media since the outbreak and the two American Ebola patients were brought back to United States, people have been thinking about it for years, Charo said.
"In the United States, the Department of Defense has already been funding this research because of concerns that we might need this for a countermeasure in case of some kind of bioterror attack," she said. "And we even have laboratories here in the United States that are on standby to do rapid development in the face of bioterror threats."