An individual faces an ethical dilemma when they have to choose between two options, both of which can be considered morally correct but also conflict. An ethical dilemma can arise in any situation which moral principles cannot decide which path of action is wrong or right. Recent Ebola virus outbreaks have begun to raise an ethical dilemma in the introduction of new drugs that were developed to help combat the illness but have not been adequately tested to ensure their effectiveness and safety. Ebola is a rare and deadly disease that can cause infections in humans and nonhuman primates.
The Ebola virus, found in several African countries, was discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Ebola, n. d. ). Humans spread the virus by coming into contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is infected with the disease. In past outbreaks, infected individuals have died nearly ninety percent of the time (Lee, 2014). During the most recent outbreak in West Africa, as the number of dead exceeded 1,000, many people began to call for more production and the release of untested medicines designed to fight the disease.
One of these drugs known as ZMapp seemed to help quicken the recovery of two American aid workers who had contracted the viral disease while in Africa. This drug had proven effective in monkeys but as yet had been tested on humans (Thompson, 2014). Last year the World Health Organization convened a panel of experts including researchers, regulators, ethicists, and patient advocacy experts and concluded that it would be ethical to offer untested and unproven drugs to treat or prevent the spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa.
This quandary was brought to the forefront when two American healthcare workers and a Spanish clergyman were treated with untested drugs. On the surface, many individuals would seem to agree that officials should do anything that they can to help stem the outbreak of the Ebola virus. Even if it means obtaining untested drugs that may or may not work effectively against the virus but are seen as a real alternative when nothing else has seemed to work. Ethicists have been quick to point out that there are many questions that need to be answered before these largely untested drugs are made available to people infected with this deadly virus.
Questions such as: Who would be the first to receive these medications that are in very short supply? Who would make the decision on who got access to the drugs first? How would doctors be able to collect data on how effective the drugs are? How can you communicate the risks of these experimental drugs to an often poorly educated resident of a rural African village? Would the money spent on these drugs be better used for quarantine supplies and public education, to help stem the transmission of the virus?
One of the biggest concerns is how would officials decide who would receive these experimental drugs that are extremely limited in the amount available. It would only seem logical that the first people to receive these drugs would be the healthcare workers and other first responders that contract the disease. It would be important to help the people that are on the front lines trying to save these sick people. Should officials focus on one geographic area, so it is easier to monitor closely how the patients are reacting to the drug?
This could raise the issue of why is one hospital in the area receiving the drug while one in a neighboring city is unable to get it. Many people would feel that the possible dangers of using an unproven and many times untested drug on a human patient far outweigh the concerns of the current Ebola outbreak. Over the last several months, the outbreak of the Ebola virus has begun to diminish in West Africa. With the disease seeming to have run its course the many ethical issues raised by the use of untested drugs on human patients have remained unresolved but will still be waiting there to be answered if another outbreak should occur.