Ethical Perspectives on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus Epidemic in Korea

J Prev Med Public Health. 2016 Jan;49(1):18-22. doi: 10.3961/jpmph.16.013.


Ethical considerations are essential in planning for and responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases. During the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in the Republic of Korea in 2015, serious challenges emerged regarding important ethical issues, such as transparency and the protection of privacy. The development of bioethics in Korea has been influenced by individualistic perspectives applied in clinical contexts, leading to a paucity of ethical perspectives relevant to population-level phenomena such as outbreaks. Alternative theories of public health ethics include the perspectives of relational autonomy and the patient as victim and vector. Public health actions need to incorporate clear and systematic procedures founded upon ethical principles. The MERS-CoV epidemic in Korea created significant public support for more aggressive early interventions in future outbreaks. This trend makes it all the more imperative for ethical principles and procedures to be implemented in future planning and responses to outbreaks in order to promote perceptions of legitimacy and civic participation.

Keywords: Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, Public health, Ethics, Ethical principles, Epidemic, Republic of Korea.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / ethics
  • Public Health / ethics*
  • Republic of Korea / epidemiology