Ethical implications of HIV self-testing

J Med Ethics. 2015 Oct;41(10):809-13. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2014-102599. Epub 2015 Aug 14.


In April 2015, the first legally approved HIV self-testing kit went on sale in the UK-except Northern Ireland where they remain illegal. These tests allow individuals to test their HIV status and read the result in the privacy of their own home, much like a home pregnancy test. This paper explores the ethical implications of HIV self-testing. We conclude that there are no strong ethical objections to self-testing being made widely available in the UK. Pretest counselling for an HIV test is not an ethical necessity, and self-testing has the potential to increase early diagnosis of HIV infection and thus improve prognosis and reduce ongoing transmission. Self-testing kits might also empower people and promote autonomy by allowing people to dictate the terms on which they test their HIV status. We accept that there are some potential areas of concern. These include the possibility of user error with the tests, and the concern that individuals may not present to health services following a reactive result. False negatives have the potential to cause harm if the 'window period' is not understood, and false positives might produce psychological distress. There is, however, little evidence to suggest that self-testing kits will cause widespread harm, and we argue that the only way to properly evaluate whether they do cause significant harm is to carefully evaluate their use, now that they are available on the market.

Keywords: Autonomy; Ethics; General Medicine / Internal Medicine; HIV Infection and AIDS; Public Health Ethics.

MeSH terms

  • Counseling
  • Early Diagnosis
  • False Negative Reactions
  • False Positive Reactions
  • HIV Infections / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / ethics*
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Mass Screening / trends
  • Self Care / ethics*
  • Self Care / methods
  • Self Care / trends
  • United Kingdom