On Saturday, October 18, Fordham Center for Ethics Education Director Dr. Celia B. Fisher appeared as a guest on MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry to discuss mounting discrimination towards West African immigrants in the wake of the first death from the Ebola virus in the United States.
Harris-Perry discussed how infectious diseases like Ebola remind us of how the biases that are already pre-existing in our society make all of us vulnerable.
“What psychologists have found is that when people’s mortality is threatened – or they feel that it is threatened – they tend to run back to their embedded cultural communities, and use the ‘other’ cultural community as a scapegoat,” Fisher explained.
In addition, Fisher discussed how medical schools do not train healthcare professionals how to deal with discrimination, poverty, and other types of vulnerabilities that patients bring, “so you have this kind of bias that runs through the medical profession that they may not even be aware of.”
Fisher said that whether or not Thomas Eric Duncan – the first person who died from the Ebola virus in the United States – was a victim of that, we know that that kind of prejudice reduces healthcare in this country.
“That’s the problem and ethical challenge with public health: public health is there to protect the community, not to protect individuals, and they have a challenge about whether or not quarantining – which takes away the liberty of individuals – should be balanced by protecting a larger population,” she said.
Speaking on the possibility of a ban on air travel, Fisher said that “there is this naïve assumption that the germ itself causes the epidemic.”
“Germs cause disease; poverty and lack of resources cause epidemics,” Fisher noted.