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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam

The Ethics of Contagion: How We Should Respond to the Spread of Infectious Diseases

Alternative title: Smittens etikk: Hvordan vi bør håndtere smittsomme sykdommer

Awarded: NOK 3.9 mill.

Project Manager:

Project Number:

315957

Project Period:

2021 - 2024

Location:

Subject Fields:

Partner countries:

Despite several wake-up calls, the SARS outbreak in 2002-2004, the H1N1-swine flu pandemic in 2009-10, and the Ebola virus epidemic in 2014-2016, the current COVID-19 pandemic has caught most governments off-guard, revealed a lack of pandemic preparedness. The pandemic also laid bare many of the unresolved ethical issues a contagious disease poses for societies and institutions: What restrictions are governments justified in imposing on their citizens to protect what they see as the greater good? How should we distribute the burdens of combatting the disease across the population? What role should markets play in allocating scarce goods in times of crisis? To satisfactory answer such questions, we need, I argue, an account of our individual moral responsibilities to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. I aim to provide such an account and build, from our individual-level obligations, a framework for how governments can ethically respond to the spread of contagious diseases. I advance three core hypotheses: The first is that during epidemics of infectious disease, individuals have more demanding obligations not to take part in the spreading of disease than standard accounts of moral responsibility would suggest. The second hypothesis is that our demanding individual obligations to accept coercive measures in a public health emergency should be understood as the premium we pay to be part of a social insurance scheme. The third is that more not fewer markets are needed to allocate benefits and burdens in a pandemic. My overall aim is to help advance the urgently needed, yet underdeveloped, field of ethics of infectious diseases, and to propose a way forward that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and that can be accepted by deontologists, consequentialists, and virtue ethicists alike.

What are the ethical limits to what governments may do to stop the spread of infectious disease? While the consensus in the field of public health ethics is that governments are justified in imposing coercive measures, it remains unclear what measures are justifiable under what conditions, what lines (if any) may never be crossed, and how restrictions on individuals’ freedoms are justified. In this project, which is a collaborative effort between Faculty of Health at OsloMet, Faculty of Philosophy at University of Oxford, and Department of Government at Harvard University, I aim to provide a framework for how to respond to the spread of contagious diseases that is grounded in individuals' moral responsibilities. I advance three core hypotheses: The first is that, during epidemics of infectious disease, individuals have more demanding obligations not to take part in the spreading of disease than standard accounts of moral responsibility would suggest. The second hypothesis is that, public health emergencies give rise to very demanding individual obligations to accept coercive measures aimed at restoring the situation back to normal. The third is that whereas some market responses to epidemics are wrongful (e.g. price gouging), it can, under certain conditions, be justifiable to reward participants who take part in high-risk drug trials. My overall aim is to help advance the urgently needed, yet underdeveloped, field of ethics of infectious diseases, and to propose a way forward that cuts across disciplinary boundaries and that can be accepted by deontologists, consequentialists, and virtue ethicists alike.

Publications from Cristin

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FRIHUMSAM-Fri prosj.st. hum og sam