Bioethics Blogs

Quarantine: The politics are as real as the science

Implementation
of medical quarantines in America brings into conflict various legitimate arguments
regarding who, if anyone, should have the authority to restrict movements of
citizens.
  Quarantines are not new, but they
exist now in a world with new dangers and new opportunities for abuse.

In teaching
medical students in recent years, it became apparent that many students found
the concept of a home quarantine to be abhorrent.
  Many were aghast at the concept that a
patient could be restricted from daily activities, and found it an egregious
violation of civil liberties and ethical conduct.
  Interestingly, these views were often not
mitigated substantially when students were informed that, in former days,
quarantines were fairly common in this country and elsewhere.
  In a world before the Internet in which home
confinement was really quite restrictive, medical quarantines for diseases such
as small pox, tuberculosis, or even measles were not uncommon.
  Such quarantines were usually imposed by a
local health official.
  In addition, many
families self-quarantined, or at least avoided exposure to potential sources of
disease.
 For example, some people used
to avoid many summer activities for fear of contracting polio.
  Due largely to the development of
vaccination, many of the diseases that would have invoked a quarantine in
earlier years are no longer of concern, and the concept of quarantine has
become a bit anachronistic, even in a world that offers many portals that would
seemingly make confinement less onerous.
 
But the topic of quarantine requires renewed consideration in the world
of today.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.