Robert Klitzman Discusses the Ethics of Deciding Who Gets New Ebola Treatment

On Tuesday, August 12, 2014, The Wall Street Journal spoke with M.S. in Bioethics director Robert Klitzman about the ethics surrounding which Ebola patients get prioritized for an experimental treatment for the fast-spreading virus. The new treatment, which has not yet been tested on humans, was given to two patients; both of them were Americans and health care workers.

"This is an extraordinary situation where we have a drug that’s been tested and shown to work in animals, but has never been given to a human being. But it’s also an emergency where we have a deadly disease that’s spreading rapidly," said Klitzman. "So we have to consider whether we should give it to more people and, if so, how many people? Which people? What should they be told? And who’s going to pay for it? And who gets to decide this?"

The Wall Street Journal asked about the ethics of giving the experimental treatment to two Americans. Klitzman responded, "As we scale up production, we need to think sooner than later about how to distribute it...All this is happening against a backdrop of a widening disparity between haves and have-nots. The first two patients were chosen in a way that was not transparent or seemed very fair….In an ideal ethical situation, you would not give it to the Westerners first. I think this reflects the realities of the policies and economics – the drug was made in a western country and there’s no agreed upon system in place to make these decisions. It’s not a just system, no. But it reflects the realities of the world today."

Read the rest of the conversation at The Wall Street Journal, and learn more about Columbia's Bioethics program.