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The Patient as Victim and VectorEthics and Infectious Disease$
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Margaret P. Battin, Leslie P. Francis, Jay A. Jacobson, and Charles B. Smith

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195335842

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195335842.001.0001

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Characteristics of Infectious Disease That Raise Distinctive Challenges for Bioethics

Characteristics of Infectious Disease That Raise Distinctive Challenges for Bioethics

The Patient as Victim and Vector

Margaret P. Battin (Contributor Webpage)

Leslie P. Francis (Contributor Webpage)

Jay A. Jacobson (Contributor Webpage)

Charles B. Smith (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the characteristics of infectious disease that raise special medical and social ethical issues, and explores ways of integrating both current bioethics and classical public health ethics concerns. Many of the ethical issues raised by infectious disease are related to these diseases' powerful ability to engender fear in individuals and panic in populations. The chapter addresses the association of some infectious diseases with high morbidity and mortality rates, the sense that infectious diseases are caused by invasion or attack on humans by foreign microorganisms, the acute onset and rapid course of many infectious diseases, and, in particular, the communicability of infectious diseases. The individual fear and community panic associated with infectious diseases often leads to rapid, emotionally driven decision-making about public health policies needed to protect the community that may be in conflict with current bioethical principles regarding the care of individual patients. The discussion includes recent examples where dialogue between public health practitioners and bioethicists has helped resolve ethical issues that require us to consider the infected patient as both a victim with individual needs and rights, and as a potential vector of disease that is of concern to the community.

Keywords:   medical issues, social ethical issues, infectious diseases, morbidity, mortality rates, clinical medicine, public health, fear, patients' rights, decision making

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