Exposure ethics: does HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis raise ethical problems for the health care provider and policy maker?

Bioethics. 2014 Jul;28(6):269-74. doi: 10.1111/bioe.12021. Epub 2013 Jun 24.


The last few years have seen dramatic progress in the development of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). These developments have been met by ethical concerns. HIV interventions are often thought to be ethically difficult. In a context which includes disagreements over human rights, controversies over testing policies, and questions about sexual morality and individual responsibility, PrEP has been seen as an ethically complex intervention. We argue that this is mistaken, and that in fact, PrEP does not raise new ethical concerns. Some of the questions posed by PrEP are not specific to HIV prophylaxis, but simply standard public health considerations about resource allocation and striking a balance between individual benefit and public good. We consider sexual disinhibition in the context of private prescriptions, and conclude that only unjustified AIDS-exceptionalism or inappropriate moralism about sex supports thinking that PrEP raises new ethical problems. This negative conclusion is significant in a context where supposed ethical concerns about PrEP have been raised, and in the context of HIV exceptionalism.

Keywords: HIV; PreP; pre-exposure; prophylaxis.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Attitude*
  • HIV
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Health Policy
  • Human Rights
  • Humans
  • Morals*
  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis / ethics*
  • Sexual Behavior


  • Anti-HIV Agents