Bioethics Blogs

Using birth control to combat Zika virus could affect future generations

Written by Simon Beard
Research Fellow in Philosophy, Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford

This is a cross post of an article which originally appeared in The Conversation.

In a recent article, Oxford University’s director of medical ethics, Dominic Wilkinson, argued that birth control was a key way of tackling the Zika virus’s apparently devastating effects on unborn children – a strategy that comes with the extra benefit of meeting the need for reproductive health across much of the affected areas.

However, although this approach might be one solution to a medical issue, it doesn’t consider the demographic implications of delaying pregnancy on such an unprecedented scale – some of which could have a significant impact on people and societies.

In most of the world, Zika outbreaks have had no noticeable effect on children, but the most recent outbreak in Brazil was associated with a significant spike in the incidence of microcephaly, a condition that causes babies to have small heads and underdeveloped brains. This rose from a background incidence of around 0.07% of live births to 2% – around 4,000 new cases since October in a country of just over 200m.

Microcephaly causes intellectual impairment in almost all cases and can also cause developmental problems and mild seizure. Life expectancy is also thought to be reduced, although whether this is caused by microcephaly itself or its associated disability is unknown.

Let us assume that children born with microcephaly suffer a reduction in life expectancy. And each year of life lived with microcephaly is also associated with an 82% reduction in quality of life.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.