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ABSTRACT

In this article, we first document the virtually complete absence of infectious disease examples and concerns at the time bioethics emerged as a field. We then argue that this oversight was not benign by considering two central issues in the field, informed consent and distributive justice, and showing how they might have been framed differently had infectiousness been at the forefront of concern. The solution to this omission might be to apply standard approaches in liberal bioethics, such as autonomy and the harm principle, to infectious examples. We argue that this is insufficient, however. Taking infectious disease into account requires understanding the patient as victim and as vector. Infectiousness reminds us that as autonomous agents we are both embodied and vulnerable in our relationships with others. We conclude by applying this reunderstanding of agency to the examples of informed consent and distributive justice in health care.