In Defense of (Some) Altered Standards of Care for Ebola Infections in Developed Countries

HEC Forum 27 (1):1-9 (2015)


The current outbreak of Ebola virus infection in West Africa continues to spread. Several patients have now been treated in the United States and preparations are being made for more. Because of the strict isolation required for their care, questions have been raised about what diagnostic and therapeutic interventions should be available. I discuss the ethical challenges associated with caring for patients in strict isolation and personnel wearing bulky protective gear with reduced dexterity and flexibility, the limitations this may place on available treatments and the permissibility of consequent departures from the standards of care. Restricting access to some interventions such as surgery requiring an operating room, advanced imaging, etc. is reasonable due to concern for protecting other patients, visitors and staff. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a special case and the implications for withholding this intervention in situations where it may be desired is discussed, especially with respect to those patients who have suspected, but not proven, infection. These same restrictions are also considered under conditions where there are scarce resources and thus limited numbers of patients may receive care. While it is to be hoped that there is only limited and sporadic infection with Ebola virus in the US, careful thought must be given to the care of these patients under the unusual circumstances demanded by their isolation. I argue that an altered standard of care is reasonable and ethically acceptable under certain conditions

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