AIDS: Bioethics and public policy

New Review of Bioethics 1 (1):127-144 (2003)

Udo Schüklenk
Queen's University
In few other areas of bioethical inquiry exists as close a connection between bioethical professional advice and policy development as is the case with HIV and AIDS. Historically, the reasons for this have much to do with one of the groups initially affected most severely by HIV and AIDS, namely well-educated middle-class gay men in developed countries. This particular group of people, highly sophisticated and used to political activism in its pursuit of civil rights-related objectives, engaged the medical profession as well as regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration, and legislators (more so in the USA than in other countries) in a number of bioethically interesting policy areas. Many of the controversies of the times were framed as civil rights and/or ethical disputes. The initial areas of concern and inquiry focused on: informed consent to HIV testing and trial participation, the confidentiality of HIV test results, access to trials as a means of access to experimental drugs, the length of time it took to get an experimental drug to the market approval stage, and end-of-life decision-making. This line-up of issues explains why AIDS has become such an interesting topic for bioethicists. Bioethicists concerned about the traditional breadand- butter themes of medical ethics themes of the doctor - patient relationship (e.g., Daniels, 1991; Boyd, 1992), as well as bioethicists more concerned about policy and regulatory issues in the drug research and approval process (e.g., Edgar & Rothman, 1990; Salisbury & Schechter, 1990), found research topics worthy of vigorous pursuit. No surprise, then, that HIV/AIDS led to a probably unprecedented number of books and articles in professional journals (Manuel et al., 1990). HIV/AIDS has become a permanent fixture in all major mainstream bioethics textbooks (e.g., Kuhse & Singer, 1998; Arras & Steinbock, 1999). Reference series in medicine, ethics and law provide for dedicated volumes on AIDS.1 Even specialist bioethics textbooks, for instance those directed at dentistry students, carry chapters on HIV/AIDS (Ozar & Sokol, 2002). 128 Udo Schuklenk AIDS, designated by the medical profession a pandemic lives up to its classification. It did not stop at the borders of developed countries. As one would expect of a primarily sexually transmitted illness in the age of globalisation, it spread rapidly across the globe. Indeed, in many countries it has become one of the main causes of death, as in sub- Saharan Africa (Shisana & Simbayi, 2002). Dramatic increases in the number of AIDS cases are predicted for many Eastern European countries as well as for the two most populous nations on earth, India and China. Some of the HIV/AIDS-related bioethical and policy issues of concern to developed countries remain the same for developing countries. However, in ethically important ways they are dwarfed by concerns over drug prices, intellectual property rights, and affordable access to essential AIDS drugs for the impoverished masses of infected people in such countries. Of increasing importance have become ethical issues pertaining to the ever-growing research industry associated with clinical trials undertaken in developing countries. Indeed, major funding initiatives both in the USA and UK have brought clinical research in developing countries into focus. Some have questioned whether this attention is appropriate, considering other bioethical problems of arguably greater importance to developing countries (Chadwick & Schuklenk, 2003). Standards of clinical care in a study, and after a trial has concluded, as well as community benefits and access to the trial regime after the trial’s conclusion remain contentious issues. It is worth noting that more often than not it was an AIDS-related trial or policy decision that led to a great deal of bioethical analysis, yet the issues discussed almost always have ramifications far beyond AIDS. For instance, decisions about the question of what (if any) standards of care failures in preventive trials (of HIV vaccines or microbicides) ought to receive have important implications for non-AIDS prevention trials
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DOI 10.1080/1740028032000131477
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