Several recent news reports have drawn comparisons between the response to Ebola and the response to AIDS in the early days of that epidemic. In both cases there were questions about balancing public health safety against civil liberties, the obligations of health care workers, and ethical protocols of vaccine and drug trials. Hastings Center projects in the 1980’s were groundbreaking in identifying ethical issues raised by AIDS and helping to establish public health policies that protected people’s civil liberties and privacy while enabling research, diagnosis, and treatment to proceed. Publications from these projects provide historical perspectives, and they reflect similarities and difference in the responses to two deadly infections that caught the world off guard.
The Hastings Center’s work on AIDS established that there were ethical issues in understanding and responding to this new and frightening infectious disease, recalls Carol Levine, a Hastings Center Fellow who led the Center’s AIDS research and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for her work in AIDS policy and ethics. Many of the same ethical concerns raised by AIDS also apply to Ebola.