Medicine, politics & NJ’s Ebola quarantine
It is unclear if a nurse held under mandatory quarantine because she had treated Ebola patients in Africa, and was running a fever when she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport, will follow through on threats to sue New Jersey.
Gov. Chris Christie insists the treatment given to Kaci Hickox was fair and considerate, and he has promised to place other Ebola doctors and nurses under the same restrictions if they appear to be ill when arriving at Newark Liberty.
Hickox, who called her stay in New Jersey "inhumane," has been transported back to her home in Maine, where she remains under quarantine for the time being.
"Public policy health issues, including mandatory quarantines, should be based on medicine and science, not fear and politics," said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey.
Shalom said the government has a long-standing right to protect the public health, "but before they do it, we want to make sure it's medically necessary that they do something, and that what they're doing is the least restrictive alternative possible. Huge liberty issues for people are at stake if they're being detained, particularly if they're being detained in prison-like conditions."
Even if held at the Ritz-Carlton, being told you can't leave is a significant deprivation of someone's personal liberty, and we want the government to limit the times that they do that only to when it's necessary and only to the extent that it's necessary."
He also said medical professionals have been studying Ebola for decades, and the big question now is whether the government has been listening to their voices.
"Whenever the government detains someone and tells them they can't move, they can't leave, it raises serious constitutional questions," Shalom said.
If Hickox does file a federal lawsuit, Rutgers University law professor and bioethics expert Kim Mutcherson believes the case will probably be thrown out.
"States have been given fairly wide latitude when it comes to their public health power and their ability to act in the interest of all of us, even in ways that significantly deprive us of our civil liberties," she said, "which, obviously, a mandatory quarantine is a substantial deprivation."
During a campaign stop in Rhode Island on Tuesday, Christie commenting on the possibility of a lawsuit by Hickox, saying, "Whatever. Get in line," according to NBC News.
"I've been sued lots of times before. Get in line. I'm happy to take it on," Christie said.
Mutcherson said a quarantine is a "classic" public health power, and that the issue has become focused not on medicine, but rather politicians "who want to seen as doing something, being active."
She also said Ebola is not a new health issue; what's new is the fear and hysteria about it that we continue to see in this country.