If we can stop Zika by killing all mosquitoes, should we?

(iStock photo)

The spread of the Zika virus, with its tragic effects on children developing in the womb, has invigorated discussion about preventing mosquito-borne diseases. In affected areas, mosquito-control measures, like spraying and eliminating standing water, help to slow their advance. But there are more radical options being considered that would drastically reduce the population of disease-bearing mosquitoes, perhaps even deliberately driving entire species toward extinction. Often, these methods involve genetic engineering to make mosquitoes produce sterile offspring.

The potential reduction in human suffering from eliminating disease-bearing mosquitoes would be vast, addressing not only the transmission of Zika but also of dengue fever, malaria and many other tropical diseases. The World Health Organization estimated that 214 million people were infected with malaria in 2015 and 438,000 died. Standard measures for mosquito control, even where effective, are harder to implement in poorer countries, as evidenced by the fact that 80 percent of all deaths from malaria occur in 15 African countries.

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The near-total elimination of disease-bearing mosquitoes will have unpredictable and potentially unwelcome effects on plants pollinated by them and on animals higher up the food chain. But even if scientists can assure us that elimination of some types of mosquitoes carries small practical risks, questions remain about the wisdom of permanently destroying any part of creation. Human beings have eradicated viruses before. Smallpox and rinderpest are gone, and polio is following quickly; these are widely acknowledged as scientific and human triumphs. Whether or not the moral analogy can extend from disease-causing viruses to disease-bearing mosquitoes is a challenging question, which deserves careful attention from scientists, ethicists and theologians.

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Bruce Snowden
1 year 10 months ago
Do Mosquitoes matter? Well, if they are necessary for pollination of certain plant life, providing food supply for higher-up life forms, then clearly they do matter. Indeed, all life matters in some way. Whatever God creates matters, all the works of His Hands be it through evolutionary agency, which is an extended process, still at work I believe throughout God’s ongoing, unfinished creation, or however. This said, there seems to be some kind of a law, I guess, that some things must die so that others may live. This is essentially how the creatures of the earth and even the earth itself is sustained. Interestingly the Paschal Mystery by which we live was accomplished by Jesus giving His life. But regarding mosquitoes dying to eradicate the virus Zika, maybe it is Zika not the mosquito that should die so that others may live. Yes, this has to be carefully addressed by as you said, "scientists, ethicistis, theologians." Incidentally I just read the other day that scientists are trying to find a way to extract cockroach milk (never knew there was such a thing) as an excellent food source to help reverse world-hunger. Also, the body of the ordinary house fly is composed of high quality protein, so there was talk years ago, about creating germ free environment fly farms, so as to grind into a meal-like material a food source. Sounds terrible, but maybe doable, even eatable! All of this tends to show convincingly that, all life, all things, from the hand of God do matter, wouldn’t you agree?

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