Ebola is on its way. Or maybe it isn’t. The messages conflict; either we’re in the beginning of a terrible struggle with a pandemic that could wipe out a significant chunk of the population, or we’re in the midst of a little hiccup in disease that should be contained by the end of the year. Either way, interesting times ahead.
There are a few things that trouble me about Ebola and the situation in which we find ourselves. The first is that Ebola, apparently, is a terrible, terrible disease. The mortality rate is very high and the death is really painful. I remember reading a book in college that described how death arrives with Ebola, and, I have to say, it would not make my top 100 on my list of “Ways I would want to Die.”
Second, I really and truly don’t understand the controversy regarding the various ad hoc rules that have sprung up regarding quarantining individuals that may or have been exposed to the virus. Of particular interest, I find the thin-slicing of who may or may not be contagious. Well, if, the story goes, you’ve only been around sick people and you only came into contact with a certain percentage of their bodily fluids, you may be in the clear from actually being affected by the disease.” That’s far too much happenstance and conjecture for my tastes.
It seems as though the governors of New York and New Jersey are drawing fire because of the way they’ve chosen to handle the treatment of those individuals that may have been exposed to Ebola either through casual contact with those that may have been stricken by the virus, or those that may have assisted health care providers in caring and treating those that are victims of the virus. These two states, among the most populous in the nation (and, dare I say it, could see a highly contagious virus rip through their respective populations like a knife through melted butter) have a vested interest – or an iron-clad responsibility – to protect its citizenry from any attack upon them.
I don’t envy the top executives and lawmakers of these states. They have a potentially serious threat to their people, and, deadly as it may be, they don’t have the evidence of the true terror that could be visited upon their towns, cities and villages. Certainly, if the media showed images from the large cities with people dying from Ebola, I’m certain that shutting down airports, questioning passengers and isolating individuals that may have been exposed to the virus would not only be acceptable, but also mandatory.
There is a history in habeas corpus cases such as the one being argued in Maine that uses the public good balancing test. The public good test requires the court to balance the alleged rights that are impugned upon against the public good of those individuals that could have their personal rights restricted should the original party be allowed to do whatever they want. An example could be ripped from today’s headlines – someone exposed to the virus travels all around a large metropolitan city and infects basically everyone with whom they come into contact. Casualties would be high, and health systems exhausted. Concurrently, potential infectees would be travelling from that city to multiple other points within the country and across the globe, potentially infecting those fellow travelers as well.
Wait. That’s what we may be looking at now. And there is a small yet very vocal number of people that do not want to enforce any type of preventative measures.
As I’ve said before, I tend to look at issues in two ways – one as an attorney and one as a person, a human, a citizen or just the average Joe. In a great many instances, my views are different. As a lawyer, I want one thing, but as a person, I want another. This very situation is the rare occurrence where both parts of me are in agreement. I think the public good requires that there be travel restrictions, quarantines and the like until the Ebola situation is under control. No number of talking heads, troops on the ground or wildly vacillating pronouncements by our government and international health agencies will convince me otherwise.