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On the Ethics of Health Crisis Management

As the U.S. ramped up its response to the Ebola crisis, Bob Abernathy and Kim Lawton interviewed Boston University ethicist Dr. George Annas for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of faith and society. In a 4-minute news video, Ethics & Ebola, Dr. Annas says the most important ethical consideration is “how we can more vigorously and effectively help the people in West Africa cope … [and] how we can protect health care workers here in the United States.” The primary obligation of the U.S. medical establishment is to U.S. citizens, he continued, but “we can do both quite well.” Unfortunately, Dr. Annas says, Americans did not have the “the proper, accurate, scientific information about how to protect themselves and others,” and hospitals had not been properly equipped. As a result they have had to “play catch up” in both training and equipment. “I think the hospitals are learning, but the idea that everybody was all prepared for this is fanciful,” he said. 

To maintain the trust of the public, officials must tell the truth. “If you … don’t know something, admit that you don’t know it, but that you’re going to try to learn it. You should never say that all our hospitals are prepared … when that’s not true.” For more on medical ethics see the news video addressing the ethics involved in DNA sequencing, also prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and their news video on mental health care and faith healing in India. Also see our feature article on how relief organizations worked around theological differences to help in Haiti after their devastating earthquake.

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