Personal health monitoring in the armed forces – scouting the ethical dimension: A case study in the Netherlands Armed Forces during the Covid-19 pandemic

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Background: The field of personal health monitoring (PHM) develops rapidly in different contexts, including the armed forces. Understanding the ethical dimension of this type of monitoring is key to a morally responsible development, implementation and usage of PHM within the armed forces. Research on the ethics of PHM has primarily been carried out in civilian settings, while the ethical dimension of PHM in the armed forces remains understudied. Yet, PHM of military personnel by design takes place in a different setting than PHM of civilians, because of their tasks and the context in which they operate. This case study therefore focusses on obtaining insights into the experiences and related values of different stakeholders regarding an existing form of PHM, the Covid-19 Radar app, in the Netherlands Armed Forces. Methods: We carried out an exploratory qualitative study, using semi-structured interviews with twelve stakeholders in the Netherlands Armed Forces. We focussed on participation in the use of PHM, reflections on the practical use and use of data, moral dilemmas and the need for ethics support, all in regard to PHM. The data was analysed using an inductive thematic approach. Results: Three interlinking categories reflecting ethical dimensions of PHM emerged: (1) values, (2) moral dilemmas, and (3) external norms. The main values identified were: security (in relation to data), trust and hierarchy. Multiple related values were found. Some, but no broadly shared, moral dilemmas were identified and no strong need for ethics support was expressed. Conclusion: This study shed light on key values, provide insights in the experienced and presumed moral dilemmas and bring to mind ethics support considerations when looking at PHM in the armed forces. Some values bring a certain vulnerability to military users when personal and organisational interests are not aligned. Furthermore, some identified values may hinder a careful consideration of PHM because they potentially conceal parts of ethical dimensions of PHM. Ethics support can assist in uncovering and addressing these concealed parts. The findings highlight a moral responsibility for the armed forces to devote attention to the ethical dimensions of PHM.
Original languageEnglish
Article number21
JournalBMC medical ethics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023


  • Armed forces
  • Ethical dimension
  • Ethics support
  • Moral dilemmas
  • Personal health monitoring
  • Responsible
  • Values

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