More ethics is good, right?

By Jane Johnson and Chris Degeling

The ethics of synthetic biology, the ethics of conspiracy theories, the ethics of movie producers… it seems there could be a separate ethics for almost anything. And with each separate ethics there could be distinctive issues that are involved, as well as specialized ethical approaches, theories, and so on. But if we step back for a moment we should probably be a little wary of all this; of carving up the world too much, of becoming too partisan and preoccupied with our own narrow interests and concerns.

So when people working in One Health talk about the need to come up with their own ethical framework, it seems right to be suspicious.

As the name suggests, One Health is all about having a unified approach to the health of humans, animals and the environment. But how can this possibly justify a new ethical framework? Isn’t this just an unhelpful plea for exceptionalism from supporters of One Health?

Not necessarily!

The field of public health that One Health hopes to influence is deeply anthropocentric – the ‘public’ in public health is always human. This means that the kind of links between humans, animals and the environment that One Health claims as vital for preventing emerging infectious diseases, are likely to be ignored. For One Health, if we are to stop the next Zika or Ebola or Avian flu, the political and ethical status quo must change. This call for radical change is one of the reasons we explore in our paper, for why One Health might need its own ethical framework.

 

Paper title: Does One Health require a novel ethical framework?

Author(s): Jane Johnson and Chris Degeling

Affiliations: Johnson (Westmead Clinical School, The University of Sydney and Department of Philosophy, Macquarie University), Degeling the Australian Centre for Health Engagement, Evidence and Values, University of Wollongong

Competing interests: None

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