Bioethics Blogs

They Can’t Say No: Ebola & Quarantined Soldiers

Sheena M. Eagan Chamberlin calls attention to the limited autonomy of military personnel regarding mandatory quarantine following the Ebola crisis.


In March 2016, The World Health Organization terminated its public health emergency warning for Ebola. We can now reflect upon this epidemic with particular attention to the ways in which we could improve our response to future public health crises.

From 2014-2016 West Africa experienced the largest outbreak of Ebola in history. There were over 28,000 cases of Ebola, and 11,325 people left dead. Many governmental and non-governmental organizations responded to this public health emergency. As well, the international military community provided a significant amount of logistical support in West Africa.

Numerous ethical challenges were faced by those who responded to the Ebola epidemic. Among the most complex challenges were those related to quarantine policies. Due to the novel and deadly nature of the virus, many people (including patients, healthcare workers, and logistic support workers) were quarantined for periods of time throughout the epidemic. Policies concerning quarantine varied from place to place. In some cases, exposed individuals were under mandatory ‘self-quarantine,’ and in other cases, large groups of low-risk and unexposed people were quarantined.

In the United States, in a civilian context, the forced quarantine of returning health care workers met with criticism and condemnation. Many argued that public health interventions should not overtly infringe on personal freedom without adequate justification. In the case of Ebola, the mode of infection was known, as were the signs, symptoms and incubation period. Public health professionals determined that active-direct monitoring was sufficient.

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.