Small viruses, big questions: Ethical responses to Zika and Ebola

Michael-Selgelid-zika-ebola-ethicsProfessor Michael Selgelid,
Monash Arts researcher.

In the lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio there’s been a lot of talk about the Zika virus: Will it be dangerous to athletes and tourists, and will it cause the spread of the virus internationally? Should the games be moved, postponed, or cancelled because of Zika?

As an advisor to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Pan American Health Organization, Monash researcher Professor Michael Selgelid has been engaged in high level policy discussions regarding these and other ethical implications of Zika.

Another major issue around Zika concerns the reproductive rights of women. The Zika virus can be passed from a pregnant woman to her unborn child, and this can cause birth defects.

Michael has argued that pregnant women infected by Zika should be free to make their own decisions about whether to continue pregnancy – and that South American countries with strict abortion restrictions should change their laws.

Michael also played a major role in WHO’s deliberations about the Ebola crisis in West Africa, where much of the ethical discussion focused on questions about the use and scientific study of new drugs and vaccines that had never previously been used or tested in humans. Should the use and study of such interventions be considered ethically acceptable in a public health emergency? And, if so, then under what conditions?

He was also recently commissioned to write an ethics report for the US Government on the biosafety and biosecurity implications of research that makes viruses more contagious or deadly.

Michael Selgelid is Director of the Monash Centre for Bioethics.

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