Treating Ebola Patients is 'Difficult Ethical Decision' for Doctors and Nurses, Says UA Global Health Expert

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By Al Bravo, UA College of Medicine – Phoenix August 11, 2014

Treating patients with infectious diseases presents an ethical dilemma for health care workers, says Dr. David Beyda. They want to help but place themselves at risk by doing so.

Dr. David Beyda during a medical mission.

Dr. David Beyda during a medical mission.

Dr. David Beyda has been in the trenches, treating patients around the world. So it is easy to believe him when he says health professionals face a moral dilemma when asked to help in an outbreak such as the one occurring in western Africa.

"Being a physician or a nurse caring for those patients with Ebola, knowing that they may, with one slip of a glove, that they may get it, and now they have compromised themselves and they've compromised their families," said Beyda, chairman of the Department of Bioethics and Medical Humanism at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. "It's an extremely difficult ethical decision that we as physicians and nurses face on a daily basis when we are asked to care for those who have an infectious disease."

Beyda, a pediatric critical care specialist at Phoenix Children's Hospital, is also the director of the global health program at the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix. He has received numerous humanitarian awards for his service and has led several groups of students to far-off lands to serve and see health care in developing nations.

He says students now go through rigorous training before leaving to raise awareness of the danger they can face overseas. Different cultures and different attitudes can affect how health professionals practice when in another country. In Africa, distrust and long-held traditions have been an obstacle in controlling the Ebola virus outbreak.

Beyda has been a clinical professor of pediatrics with the UA since 1983. He is also medical director for One Child Matters (formerly Mission of Mercy), which cares for more than 40,000 underprivileged children in 22 countries.

In the past seven years, since assuming the directorship of One Child Matters, Beyda has been on more than 40 trips to 15 countries. He began working with developing nations as a teenager; at age 27, while still in his pediatric residency, he experienced his first formal medical mission. 

That kind of background can prepare you to face the troubling events in an epidemic like today's Ebola outbreak. But with a family and other concerns, whether to jump on a plane to serve isn't a decision made easily.

"I would do it, but I would need some significant precautions put in place," he said.

As it is, Beyda had already committed to serving in the Philippines and Cambodia this month, although the World Health Organization did check his availability.

Earlier in his career, Beyda said, he wouldn't have hesitated to go to a hot spot.

"Now, I think it would be a different decision I would make," Beyda said. "I still go to crazy places but it takes a little more thought and preparations. So I have a lot more things in place now before I leave."

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