Ethan was a young boy who was a prisoner in a Romulan laboratory along with Commander William T. Riker. It would later be discovered that he was the key figure in a holographic simulation created by the alien Barash on the planet Alpha Onias III.
"Ethan" was in fact Barash himself, who was merely seeking interaction with Riker. He had been isolated for several years in a holographic environment that responded to his thoughts and attempted to fulfill his desires. The only thing it couldn't do is provide him interactions with other real beings.