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Keywords:

  • developing world bioethics;
  • ethics of care;
  • HIV/AIDS;
  • informed consent;
  • mandatory testing;
  • antiretroviral therapy;
  • bioethics

ABSTRACT

Recent global advances in available technology to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission necessitate a rethinking of contemporary and previous ethical debates on HIV testing as a means to preventing vertical transmission. In this paper, we will provide an ethical analysis of HIV-testing strategies of pregnant women. First, we argue that provider-initiated opt-out HIV testing seems to be the most effective HIV test strategy. The flip-side of an opt-out strategy is that it may end up as involuntary testing in a clinical setting. We analyse this ethical puzzle from a novel perspective, taking into account the moral importance of certain hypothetical preferences of the child, as well as the moral importance of certain actual preferences of the mother. Finally, we balance the conflicting concerns and try to arrive at an ethically sound solution to this dilemma. Our aim is to introduce a novel perspective from which to analyse testing strategies, and to explore the implications and possible benefits of our proposal. The conclusion from our analysis is that policies that recommend provider-initiated opt-out HIV testing of pregnant mothers, with a risk of becoming involuntary testing in a clinical setting, are acceptable. The rationale behind this is that the increased availability of very effective and inexpensive life-saving drugs makes the ethical problems raised by the possible intrusiveness of HIV testing less important than the child's hypothetical preferences to be born healthy. Health care providers, therefore, have a duty to offer both opt-out HIV testing and available PMTCT (preventing mother-to-child transmission) interventions.