Populations, Public Health, and the Law

By Wendy E. Parmet | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Individual Rights, Population
Health, and Due Process

Achieving a just balance between constitutionally protected
rights and the powers and duties of the state to defend and
advance the public's health poses an enduring problem for
public health law.

—Lawrence O. Gostin, Public Health Law:
Power, Duty, Restraint

IN THE FALL OF 2001, as the nation struggled to come to terms with the terrible events of 9/11, and anthrax spread through the United States mail, the CDC commissioned the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities to draft a model state law updating and clarifying emergency powers that states could use during a public health emergency. The subsequent publication of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MSEHPA), which sought to give governors extraordinary powers and contained substantial provisions authorizing isolation, quarantine, and mandatory medical examinations and treatment, prompted a heated debate about the roles of government coercion and individual liberty in public health protection.1

Although fears of bioterrorism have since receded somewhat, the controversy generated by the MSEHPA has not. Indeed, as the years have progressed, new public health threats—SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), pandemic influenza, extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis—

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