The Zika Virus — Bioethical Implications

The recent appearance of the Zika virus has justly concerned many. With scientists evaluating its relationship to microcephaly in newborns, important ethical issues arise. The Washington Post notes that the CDC has reported that in the United States two recently Zika infected women had abortions, two suffered miscarriages, two delivered healthy babies, another gave birth to a baby with serious birth effects, and two are still pregnant.

The ethical issue of Zika and abortion is raised in a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. Professor Charles Camosy notes that the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights is pressuring Central and South American countries “to change laws that protect prenatal children from violence” even though the WHO has cautioned, “[N]o scientific evidence to date confirms a link between Zika virus and microcephaly.”

Camosy’s point is well worth considering. He challenges the attempts of organizations to “impose foreign moral and legal principles onto those who think differently” and wonders why there has been so little American reaction to this “neocolonialism.” His observation is chilling. Citing Indiana’s infamous compulsory sterilization law of 1909, he notes, “It may be that the eugenic impulse is so deeply embedded in U.S. culture that we don’t even recognize it.”

Undoubtedly, the Zika virus is scary, especially for pregnant women. But I wonder along with Camosy, why the first response by some is to discard the “most vulnerable among us.” Surely, there must be other ways help to those in need.

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Zika Ethics Consultation: Ethics Guidance on Key Issues Raised by the Outbreak
The document presents the guidance that resulted from the Zika Ethics Consultation convened by the Regional Program on Bioethics of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on the issues that affected countries had previously identified as most ethically challenging in the context of the Zika virus outbreak. Ethical duties in the domains of health care delivery, public health activity, and research are explained.
The document is available at: http://iris.paho.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/28425/PAHOKBR16002_eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y