Ellison's Must Read of the Day

Ellison must read
October 30, 2014

My must read of the day is "The Case Against Ebola Quarantines, Respectfully Submitted," by Ron Fournier, in the National Journal:

I get it: You don't trust government to contain Ebola in the United States, or to be honest about its dangers. […]

You're among the 80 percent of Americans who want travelers from West Africa to be forcibly isolated upon arrival to the United States. You trust government not to exploit or extend civil-liberty limitations like those suffered by Kaci Hickox, an extraordinary nurse who tested negative twice for Ebola since fighting the disease at its West African roots.

Are you a hypocrite? No, you're conflicted. First, the nagging incompetence of public and private institutions gives you pause about the ability of government to curb the insidious disease. Long ago, most Americans lost some measure of faith in the institutions that could be calming fears now: government, medicine, and journalism.

Second, quarantines are not illegal or unprecedented. One person's rights can be suspended for a greater good. Famously, the First Amendment doesn't apply to the person who yells "Fire!" in a crowded theater.

I, like Fournier, understand the concern and desire for quarantines and flight bans.

A flight ban is treated by the administration as a preposterous idea, but it’s not because over 30 countries have instituted one. That’s not to say it’s a good idea or even that’s it’s a bad idea, but it shouldn’t be treated as a proposal offered by the crazy people talking themselves on a corner street.

There are valid points in the argument in favor of the flight ban, and there are valid points against it, but there seems to be significantly less merit in the argument that favors quarantining medical workers returning to the U.S. from West Africa.

When I think about Kaci Hickox and quarantining anyone else, the question I have is how does this make us safer? I’m not sure it does. It possibly quells fears. On the other hand, it also could increase panic by making Ebola in the United States a bigger deal than it should be.

We know how Ebola is spread—the disease was first discovered in the seventies—and it is only contracted through direct contact with bodily fluid when a patient is symptomatic. Despite knowing that, some people argue that the quarantine is simply a precaution and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Perhaps that’s a fair point, but it doesn’t seem to be an effective precaution. If the family members living with these people are still allowed to come and go as they please when they’re clearly interacting with the person who has been exposed, how is the quarantine going to be effective? If this is an ineffective precaution, why should we be on board with taking away someone’s rights for it?

If the government is going to take away the rights of even one citizen, there needs to be proof that a greater good is being served. In order for a 21-day home quarantine to actually keep the disease away from the public, the person being quarantined would need to be alone or their family members would similarly need to stay at home. If others living in the home are allowed to wander about, is the disease really being contained anymore than allowing someone like Hickox to be out in public while asymptomatic?

I don’t think so, but regardless the governors implementing the quarantine have not answered those kinds of questions. Until they answer them, and actually give a good answer, this is a rash and politically expedient reaction to one doctor in New York City.

At the very least, we should be asking more questions before acquiescing in government intrusion out of fear.

Published under: Ebola