To Save or Not to Save? New High-Stakes Multiparty Role Play on Infectious Disease

New Product: Drug Trial Committee

6136_PHIL_scientists_PPE_Ebola_outbreak_1995Imagine that a deadly infectious disease, the Anthella virus, is spreading throughout the world population. Scientists everywhere are rushing to find a cure. Fortunately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have just developed an antidote. Unfortunately, there are only three doses. Who will be saved?

Based on the Ebola outbreak of 2014, a new role play from Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program involves the life-or-death policy decisions of a public health crisis. Written by Professor Robert Bordone, clinical instructor Alonzo Emery, and clinical fellow Sara del Nido, Drug Trial Committee is easy to implement but challenging to negotiate.

As members of a committee seeking to provide transparency in allocating resources in national health crises and disasters, participants are tasked with deciding unanimously who may receive medical treatment. Participants must choose three of seven candidates: a beloved reality TV star; a single public interest lawyer; a stay-at-home dad with health issues; an undocumented seasonal worker with a family abroad; an epidemiologist infected while researching a cure; a young prodigy with a history of depression; and the prodigy’s brother, a recovering addict. The other four candidates will not be treated. If the group cannot decide, the drug’s efficacy will expire and all, presumably, will die.

The case requires approximately an hour to teach and just five minutes of student preparation, but introduces students to the process of multiparty negotiation in an emotionally charged, time-pressured scenario. First, participants deliberate for approximately thirty minutes; the remainder of the hour may be used to debrief the exercise. Instructors may tease out how processes were formed, what criteria were used, what group dynamics transpired, and the advantages and disadvantages of various processes. Discussion of values, transparency, and fiduciary duty may arise. Instructors have the option to precede the case with a slideshow of images, so that participants develop an emotional connection with the patient candidates.  The case may also be adapted for a decision rule other than unanimity—such as a chairperson with final authority or simple majority rule. This case works best with at least four groups of five, but is manageable with four to six participants or larger groups.

To download Drug Trial Committee, visit HLS Case Studies. Educators and staff of non-profit institutions are eligible to receive review copies free of charge.

About Elizabeth Moroney

Case Studies Editorial Assistant
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