A 10-year-old surveillance program called Predict studies how lethal diseases like Ebola and MERS can travel from animals to humans. While Predict was supported by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the current federal government is defunding the program.

Medical ethicist Art Caplan joined Boston Public Radio on Wednesday to explain why it is unwise for the program to be shut down.

"It's crazy ridiculous when you're going to go out and defund basic studies of how diseases originate," Caplan said. "When it comes to health care, we love to spend money to rescue people, but prevention not so much."

Many of the diseases being studied by Predict originate in countries outside of the United States, causing some isolationists to think that funding research isn't worth our time and money, Caplan said.

"Their argument is partly, 'Why are we spending money to protect ourselves against diseases that occur in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?' But here's the short answer: Even if you're morally obtuse and don't care about those folks, there are airports, and those diseases can be here in eight hours," he said. "Also, our troops are all over the place, tourists all over the place and so are people traveling on business."

Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Chair, and director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.