Bioethics Blogs

Kaci Hickox: Public health and the politics of fear

Steven H Miles, M.D.

Kaci Hickox is a nurse who went to Sierra Leone with Doctors without borders to treat the emergency with Ebola. She is professionally brave, articulate and well trained. Sierra Leone, with 5000 cases, is one the epicenters of the Ebola epidemic.[1] [2] She was last exposed to patient care on October 21.[3] On Friday October 24, she returned to the United States, entering at Newark International Airport in New Jersey. There she was met by a disorganized set of officials who tried to determine what to do with her. She was repeatedly interviewed. Her temperature on arrival was normal but was repeated several times using a forehead scan thermometer, which will give falsely high readings of persons under stress. Eventually, a temperature was high.[4] She was sent to a University Hospital in Newark that found her to be afebrile and asymptomatic.

Nevertheless, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie intervened and ordered her to be confined, saying she was “obviously sick.” She was placed in isolation, threatened with 21 days of hospitalization and promptly threatened to sue for violation of her civil liberties and unjustified confinement. On October 27, an unapologetic Governor Christie allowed her to be discharged with the expectation she would go directly to her home in Maine, saying, “I didn’t reverse any decision . . .. She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours. And she tested negative for Ebola. So there was no reason to keep her. The reason she was put into the hospital in the first place was because she was running a high fever and was symptomatic.”[5] She traveled to her home in Fort Kent, a town of 4000 persons in northern Maine.

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.