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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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How Infectious Disease Got Left Out of Bioethics

How Infectious Disease Got Left Out of 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 first documents the virtually complete absence of infectious disease examples and concerns at the time bioethics emerged as a field. It then argues that this oversight was not benign by considering two central issues in the field—informed consent and distributive justice—and showing how they might have been framed differently had infectiousness been at the forefront of concern. The solution to this omission might be to apply standard approaches in liberal bioethics, such as autonomy and the harm principle, to infectious examples. It is argued that this is insufficient, however. Taking infectious disease into account requires understanding the patient as victim and as vector. Infectiousness reminds us that as autonomous agents we are both embodied and vulnerable in our relationships with others. The chapter concludes by applying this re-understanding of agency to the examples of informed consent and distributive justice in health care.

Keywords:   distributive justice, informed consent, autonomy, harm principle, health care

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