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Developing the duty to treat: HIV, SARS, and the next epidemic


SARS, like HIV, placed healthcare workers at risk and raised issues about the duty to treat. But philosophical accounts of the duty to treat that were developed in the context of HIV did not adequately address some of the ethical issues raised by SARS. Since the next epidemic may be more like SARS than HIV, it is important to illuminate these issues. In this paper, we sketch a general account of the duty to treat that arose in response to HIV. Our purpose is not to defend or criticise this account, but to show that it needs to be developed in order to address three important issues. The first issue concerns how risks should be distributed among healthcare professionals. The second issue concerns the conflicts that arise between professional duties and family duties. The third issue concerns the forms of support that societies owe healthcare workers during epidemics. Our descriptions of these issues are drawn from our experience of the SARS epidemic in Taiwan.

  • duty to treat
  • HIV
  • SARS
  • epidemic

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