Bioethics Blogs

When Medical Ethics Enters the Campaign

Ethical questions in medical care and science will be prevalent throughout the presidential election season. How deeply they are considered will vary greatly. In the past week, two in particular have come to the fore, and how well they were engaged is worth considering.

Asked in Saturday’s Republican debate whether he would consider quarantining Americans returning this summer from the Olympics in Brazil, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, “You bet I would.”

Christie, you will recall, was a vocal supporter of quarantine during the Ebola outbreak, memorably locking up Kaci Hickox in a tent for three days when the nurse returned from caring for Ebola patients in Sierra Leone (though she tested negative for Ebola). So perhaps the certainty of Christie’s reply, now that Zika is the new viral fear, is not surprising.

Rival candidate Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon, countered that “just willy-nilly going out and quarantining people because they’ve been to Brazil, I don’t think that’s going to work.”

In reporting this story, the news service STAT (www.statnews.com) noted that while the World Health Organization has declared a global public health emergency because of Zika, WHO “has not called for quarantining anyone who may have been exposed to the disease. In Zika-affected countries such as Colombia, pregnant women infected with the virus sometimes share rooms in the maternity wards with women who do not have Zika, with only a mosquito net to separate them. There is no evidence the virus can be transmitted through casual contact, or through sneezes or coughs.”

Mortality and care of the dying also became a campaign topic during a town hall sponsored by CNN, when Jim Kirhan, an 81-year-old, terminally ill man, asked Hillary Clinton how she would “advance the respectful conversation that is needed” about physician-assisted dying.

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.