Individual rights versus the public interest: Outbreak

Sarah R. Lieber, Alan Wertheimer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter discusses the ethical issues raised by the film Outbreak (1995), specifically the conflict between protecting public health versus respecting the rights of the individual. The film tells the story of an outbreak caused by a deadly virus carried to the United States by an African monkey shipped to California. At one point, it appears necessary to obliterate an entire town to prevent the virus from escaping and endangering the entire population of the United States. The virus is cast as an agent of war, justifying the use of force and citing that the flu pandemic of 1918 killed more people than did World War I. The film asks, in effect, whether it is morally acceptable to use force against those who carry the virus even when they are essentially innocent victims.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Picture of Health
Subtitle of host publicationMedical Ethics and the Movies
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9780190267520
ISBN (Print)9780199735365
StatePublished - May 27 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Epidemic
  • Individual rights
  • Medical ethics
  • Outbreak
  • Public health
  • Public interest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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