November 30, 2022

What do we do when biohazards are human?

Bioethicists are debating the ethics of quarantine as governments around the world move to contain the spread of Ebola.

Bioethicists are debating the ethics of quarantine as governments around the world move to contain the spread of Ebola. The UN announced on Thursday that it is drafting guidelines to prevent human rights violations against people suspected of having Ebola. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein cautioned against imposing criminal punishments on those who refuse isolation, saying that it might have the opposite effect.

A number of leading American bioethicists have defended the practice, arguing that it “takes precedence” over certain rights of the individual.

In a recent article in Time magazine, Art Caplan and Alison Bateman-House of NYU argued that freedom of movement must at times be restricted: “in the face of a threat of death, liberty can and should be, as we are watching in Dallas, limited so that you can’t move around freely and infect others.”

They did, however, stress the need to provide for the particular needs of different persons quarantined:  “If you are poor you are going to need more resources to get you through then if you are rich.”

Craig Klugman of De Paul University criticised the individualism of those who fail to voluntarily isolate themselves: “Why can’t people be trusted to do the right thing?…Has our worship at the altar of individualism gone so far that we are willing to spread a deadly disease to simply satisfy our desire for soup?” Klugman asks people to accept a program of voluntary isolation. When this fails duress may be legitimately used. 

Debate over quarantine of suspected Ebola patients
Xavier Symons
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Creative commons
Ebola
quarantine