Who should be tested in a pandemic? Ethical considerations [Book Review]

BMC Medical Ethics 22 (1):1-11 (2021)
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Abstract

BackgroundIn the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, difficult decisions had to be made on the allocation of testing resources. Similar situations can arise in future pandemics. Therefore, careful consideration of who should be tested is an important part of pandemic preparedness. We focus on four ethical aspects of that problem: how to prioritize scarce testing resources, the regulation of commercial direct-to-consumer test services, testing of unauthorized immigrants, and obligatory testing.Main textThe distribution of scarce resources for testing: We emphasize the use of needs-based criteria, but also acknowledge the importance of choosing a testing strategy that contributes efficiently to stopping the overall spread of the disease. Commercial direct-to-consumer test services: Except in cases of acute scarcity, such services will in practice have to be allowed. We propose that they should be subject to regulation that ensures test quality and adequate information to users. Testing of unauthorized immigrants, their children and other people with unclear legal status: Like everyone else, these individuals may be in need of testing, and it is in society’s interest to reach them with testing in order to stop the spread of the disease. A society that offers comprehensive medical services to unauthorized immigrants is in a much better position to reach them in a pandemic than a society that previously excluded them from healthcare. Obligatory testing: While there are often strong reasons for universal testing in residential areas or on workplaces, there are in most cases better ways to achieve testing coverage than to make testing mandatory.ConclusionIn summary, we propose decision-making primarily based on needs-based criteria, strict regulation but not prohibition of direct-to-consumer test services, test services offered to unauthorized immigrants, preferably as part of comprehensive medical services, and broad outreach of testing services whenever possible, but in general not obligatory testing.

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