Bioethics Blogs

The plague at our doorstep: ethical issues presented by the Zika virus outbreak

By Ryan Purcell
Image courtesy of Flickr user Day Donaldson
“Never before in history has there been a situation when a bite from a mosquito can result in such a devastating scenario.” So says Tom Frieden, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Zika virus has captured headlines since late 2015, when word spread north from Brazil that a virus, new to the Americas, may be silently causing alarming neurodevelopmental disorders in newborns. Now, the southern United States is preparing to confront the mosquito-borne illness, which “may become the first great plague of the 21st century.” As public health officials continue to work to mitigate the impact of what the World Health Organization has declared a “Global Health Emergency”, there are several important ethical issues that must be considered. These include a women’s reproductive rights, disability rights concerning those most affected, and the growing realization that poverty-stricken regions and neighborhoods will bear a disproportional burden from this disease. Each of these concerns deserves much more attention than could be provided here. My current aim is merely to point out key issues to stimulate discussion.

In a letter to the editor published in February in The Lancet, Monica Roa of American University made a compelling argument for increased attention to women’s reproductive rights in Latin America in response to the Zika virus outbreak. According to Roa, the recommendation by Columbia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Jamaica for women to delay pregnancy is woefully out of step with the unfortunate realities of life for many women in these countries.

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.