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Article

Abstract

Recent developments that are relevant to the ethics of infection control include the patient safety movement, the appearance of new diseases (notably, severe acute respiratory syndrome) that pose threats to healthcare workers, data confirming the suspicion that infection control measures such as isolation may compromise patient care, and, in philosophy, renewed interest in virtue ethics and communitarianism. We review general ethical frameworks and relevant vocabulary for infection control practitioners and hospital epidemiologists. Frameworks for the ethics of infection control resemble those of public health more than those of clinical medicine but embrace elements of both. The optimum framework, we suggest, takes into account a virtue-based communitarianism. The virtue ethics movement stresses the need to consider not only rules and outcomes but also the character of the individual(s) involved. Communitarianism emphasizes the well-being and values of local communities, best determined by shared, democratic decision making among stakeholders. Brief discussions of 15 consecutive cases illustrate the extent to which the daily practice of infection control poses problems heavily freighted with ethical overtones.

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