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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

What Has HIV/AIDS Led Us To Understand about Global Ethical Challenges?


Event Recap

On April 8 James Keenan, S.J., Founders Professor of Theology at Boston College, spoke on the importance of public information and education in addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis, and how the epidemic has informed the ethical responses to contemporary global challenges.

Keenan argued that HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts cannot succeed without concurrent attempts to rectify existing structural inequalities in the developing world. HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects women, migrants, and impoverished people, all of whom also have less access to preventative care and treatment options.

To illustrate some of the problems of gender inequity facing the developing world, Keenan shared a story from Costa Rica in which a woman learned that her husband was HIV positive three days before he died from AIDS-related complications. Her husband (who contracted the disease from extramarital affairs) had known he was HIV-positive for five years but both he and the family doctor neglected to tell her or their eight children. Paternalistic medical professionals in many parts of the developing world refuse to share information or effective treatments with women, Keenan noted, which quickens the spread of the epidemic.

In the industrialized world, where people have access to health care and preventive techniques, AIDS is a chronic but treatable illness. In the developing world, however,

AIDS is widely considered terminal. If we have the capability to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS in the West, Keenan concluded, we have capability to treat it in the developing world as well. But, he argued, ethicists won’t be able to truly address the issue of HIV/AIDS and other global epidemics until they deal with the structural social and economic inequalities exacerbating the problem.