Daniel Sokol

Ebola, ethics and the WHO’s decision

The World Health Organization on Monday announced the outcome of its ethical deliberations. It found that, in certain circumstances, it was ethically permissible to use unproven drugs on Ebola patients.

It then listed ethical criteria. These included transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community.

These are laudable principles but what do they actually mean in practice? The devil is in the detail. If you broke your ankle after slipping on coffee in a hotel, and asked a lawyer if you would win a case against the hotel, you would be frustrated if the lawyer simply recited a legal principle: “the hotel owes you a duty to take reasonable care to see that you are reasonably safe in using the premises”. You want to know whether, in your case, the hotel did take reasonable care. To resolve your problem, the legal principle must be applied to the facts.

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