The Ethics of Deliberate Exposure to SARS-CoV-2 to Induce Immunity

Journal of Applied Philosophy 38 (3):479-496 (2021)
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Abstract

We explore the ethics of deliberately exposing consenting adults to SARS-CoV-2 to induce immunity to the virus (“DEI” for short). We explain what a responsible DEI program might look like. We explore a consequentialist argument for DEI according to which DEI is a viable harm-reduction strategy. Then we consider a non-consequentialist argument for DEI that draws on the moral significance of consent. Additionally, we consider arguments for the view that DEI is unethical on the grounds that, given that large-scale DEI would be highly likely to result in some severe illnesses and deaths, DEI amounts to a form of killing. Our thesis is that incorporating a DEI program alongside the status-quo “calibrate-the-curve” responses could have significant advantages at the early stages of pandemics. These potential advantages mean that, at a minimum, research into DEI would have been justified early in the COVID-19 pandemic, and that DEI programs should be explored as potential additions to our overall approach to emerging pandemics in the future.

Author Profiles

Robert Streiffer
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Richard Y. Chappell
University of Miami
David Killoren
Koc University

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