Friday, July 27, 2018


28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later raise ethical issues. Although it's a variation on the zombie genre, it resembles a rabies outbreak. Of course, this is science fiction, yet there's the question of whether something like that might be realistic: 

Could rabies be bioengineered? Could it be weaponized? The future holds terrifying prospects for biowarfare. 

Rabies causes a viral encephalitis which kills up to 70,000 people/year worldwide. Infected animal saliva transmits the viral encephalitis to humans. Rabies is one of the oldest known diseases in history with cases referred to from more than 4000 years ago. For most of human history, a bite from a rabid animal was uniformly fatal. In the past, people were so scared of rabies that after being bitten by a potentially rabid animal, many would commit suicide.

Patients killed themselves or were killed when bitten by a dog believed to be rabid.

Rotivel, Yolande. "Introduction (to excerpt of CDC article)". Federation of American Scientists.

Although rabies is now curable if the patient receives prompt treatment, it's understandable that victims used to kill themselves, given the horrific progression of the disease. I don't think we always have a duty to let nature take its course. Why wait for the worst to happen?

Assuming that suicide is justifiable in that situation, is homicide justifiable in that situation? I don't think that follows. 

For one thing, you're not going through what I'm going through. So that's my call. 

In addition, we have certain rights to do to ourselves what we don't have to do to others. If I'm entitled to walk a tightrope, that doesn't entitle me to make you walk a tightrope.

If a rabies victim tries to attack somebody, then self-defense (lethal force) is justifiable. 

In addition, it is justifiable to restrain or quarantine an asymptomatic rabies victim in advance of the furious rabies stage. 

If, however, the victim is asymptomatic, to kill him just because the victim is potentially dangerous to others is murder. Social duties obligate us to accept certain risks in the interests of others. 

To take a comparison, if there are two snakebite victims, but only enough antivenom to treat one, there's a sense in which the patients are rivals. My survival depends on you not getting the antivenom, and vice versa. But that doesn't give me the right to kill you so that I can have it for myself. 

During the progression of the disease, there's a point at which the victim ceases to be psychologically human. However, the victim is still entitled to be treated with human dignity. For one thing, the victim will revert to a human mindset after death, when the soul is released from the psychotic effects of acute encephalitis or meningoencephalitis. 

1 comment:

  1. Apparently the Soviet Biopreparat program was able to successfully create and weaponize chimera viruses like the Ebolapox (Ebola + smallpox). I guess the Soviets were literally making a Pandora's box of bioweapons. Scary.

    There's an older (and controversial) MIT Technology Review article which interviews a former Soviet scientist, Serguei Popov, involved in the Biopreparat program who later became a professor at George Mason University: