Why an Ebola quarantine is legal

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By Gregg Jarrett,

from FoxNews,

I admire Kaci Hickox’s devotion to helping others. As a nurse, she risked her life treating Ebola patients in West Africa. If only she had the same compassion for others here at home.

Hickox, who is threatening to violate a state imposed 21 day quarantine in Maine, claims her “basic human rights have been violated.”

Not true.

In America, our right to freedom is not absolute or boundless. It is conditional. There are limits. We are not free to kill or harm others with a weapon, for example. Even people who do not intend to kill or harm, are not free to be careless or reckless in wielding a gun. We live by a set of laws which protect our lives.

Sadly, Ebola has become the equivalent of a deadly weapon. It is not wielded intentionally, but by negligent or accidental contact.

Thus, the same legal principles of protection apply. Hickox surely does not intend to infect anyone with a virus she may not even have. But that’s not the point. She has the potential to transmit the infectious disease, perhaps without even knowing it. And given Ebola’s deadly nature, government must err on the side of caution to guard the health and safety of its citizenry.

As a matter of fundamental law, state and federal governments have long had the power to quarantine individuals who may have been exposed to a deadly contagion or are suspected of having the disease.

For more than a century, quarantines imposed under exigent circumstances have been employed for a variety of illnesses. A person does not have to be fully symptomatic to be quarantined. Courts have upheld this power consistently. And the less that is known or understood about a disease, the broader the exercise of that power. Ebola presents such a case.

Hickox insists there is no “scientific reason” for her to be quarantined in her home during the 21 day incubation period. Yet, the paucity of scientific understanding of Ebola and the plethora of conflicting opinions is precisely why she should be quarantined.

Communicable diseases, especially at their outset, are often difficult to control because our knowledge of their transmission and evolution is not fully known. This is where common sense, by default, must be used.

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