Quarantines For Infectious Diseases

Jessica Rix
January 25, 2008
Rachel Robson

Beneficial Quarantines for Infectious Diseases
In the 14th century, at least one third of all Europeans died from a pandemic called “Black Death,” or the “Black Plague.” Over seventy-five million people died from what was said to be the worst pandemic in human history. What is worse than the knowledge of that horrible time period so long ago is the fact that infectious diseases are still an issue that has to be dealt with today. Recent pandemics and infectious disease scares have brought to light the need to control the wide-spread infections. It has also enlightened the population to the battle between civil rights and the good of the public’s health. Although quarantines can be used in varying degrees, they should be mandatory, for people with the infection, to prevent the spread of any infectious disease, that could be potentially deadly, to the rest of the population, or any person that they come into contact with.
Infectious diseases are a very serious threat to human kind. There is now the worry about terrorist attacks, as well as the spread of more naturally occurring diseases. In 1918, a flu virus killed between 20 and 100 million people. Also, in the 20th Century, smallpox killed about three times more people than all the wars of that period put together (Selgelid 2005). More recently, there was a global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. In 2003, SARS affected countries around the world, including China, as well as most of Asia, Canada, Ontario, and the United States (Reis 2004). Anthrax is another deadly infection that can be transferred easily between people. It can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin (Dixon, Meselson, Guillemin, & Hanna 1999). Tuberculosis, the leading cause of death from a single infectious disease, is still at large in many continents and countries (Bloom & Murray 1992). Therefore, action needs to take place to protect innocent people from getting any of these infections and start a pandemic.
While some quarantines worked well during the 2003 SARS pandemic, other quarantines were not as beneficial. The ethics of detaining people at home are commonly questioned. There is a need for respecting individual’s liberties and rights, and at the same time promote the health of the rest of the population’s citizens. Quarantines should be part of a plan to control and stop the spread of potentially deadly diseases. There does, however, have to be a balance between the rights of individual citizens and the health of others, to effectively cease the spread of infectious diseases. Utilitarianism is an idea that supports the use of quarantines. Utilitarianism is the moral theory that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness for the greatest number of persons. If utility were to be said to be a person’s perception/conception of their well-being (Sen & Williams, 1982, p. 64), then the greatest happiness for the greatest number would be to protect the public from a widespread, deadly, and harmful infectious disease. An individual’s rights do not match the rights of multiple people that would potentially be infected (Goodin, 1995, p. 3).
Having quarantines affects some individual rights that many people are used to. However, quarantines will help lower the number of people affected, and the efforts of getting the pandemic under control will be less. Pandemics are very serious, affect many people, and often result in large numbers of deaths. Mandatory quarantines need to be used efficiently and effectively to help stop the spread of deadly infectious diseases.
Bloom, B. R., & Murray, C. J. L. (1992). Tuberculosis: Commentary on a Reemergent Killer. Science, 257, 1055-1064.

Dixon, T. C., Meselson, M., Guillemin, J., Hanna, P. C. (1999) Anthrax. The New England Journal of Medicine, 341, 815-826.

Goodin, R. E. (1995). Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Selgelid, M. J. (2005). Ethics and Infectious Disease. Bioethics, 19, 272.

Sen, A., Williams, B. (1982). Utilitarianism and Beyond. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ries, N. M. (2004). Public Health Law and Ethics: Lessons from SARS and Quarantine. Health Law Review, 13, 3-6.

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