This is the last post in our “Deliberation and Education” series. In each blog post, we have discussed the role that deliberation and education have played in each of the reports issued by the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission). This post will examine deliberation and education in the Bioethics Commission’s brief Ethics and Ebola: Public Health Planning and Response, released in February 2014.
In Ethics and Ebola, the Bioethics Commission turned its attention to the ethical and prudential reasons for U.S. engagement in the global response to the ongoing Ebola epidemic. The Commission recommended policies and practices to support a proactive response to global public health emergencies. In the brief, the Commission considered several lessons that the U.S. response to the epidemic in western Africa has for ethics preparedness and future public health emergencies, related to engagement, infrastructure, communications, and ethics integration.
The Bioethics Commission recognized that democratic deliberation is an important component of public health emergency preparedness because it fosters dialogue with affected communities and promotes flexible decision making. The Commission acknowledged that while the process of democratic deliberation can be challenging during a crisis, when decisions must be made quickly, public engagement is still necessary and possible during a health emergency.
The Bioethics Commission explicitly included education in its third overarching recommendation:
Public officials have a responsibility to support public education and communication regarding the nature and justification of public health responses.
The Bioethics Commission recognized that effective communication can help to educate the public on the nature of the health emergency; provide information on the rationale for policies and programs; and help mitigate the stigma and discrimination associated with many public health emergencies.
Education and democratic deliberation play key roles during both public health emergencies and throughout the work of the Bioethics Commission. These two principles, the cornerstones of the Commission’s work and process, will be the focus of the Commission’s forthcoming capstone report. Ethics and Ebola and all other Commission reports and educational materials are available at Bioethics.gov.