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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Ethics of Quarantine

The Ethics of Quarantine | Journal of Ethics | American Medical ...Ross Upshur
Virtual Mentor. 2003;5(11):393-395.

Here are two excerpts:

There are 2 independent ethical considerations to consider here: whether the concept of quarantine is justified ethically and whether it is effective. It is also important to make a clear distinction between quarantine and isolation. Quarantine refers to the separation of those exposed individuals who are not yet symptomatic for a period of time (usually the known incubation period of the suspected pathogen) to determine whether they will develop symptoms. Quarantine achieves 2 goals. First, it stops the chain of transmission because it is less possible to infect others if one is not in social circulation. Second, it allows the individuals under surveillance to be identified and directed toward appropriate care if they become symptomatic. This is more important in diseases where there is presymptomatic shedding of virus. Isolation, on the other hand, is keeping those who have symptoms from circulation in general populations.

Justification of quarantine and quarantine laws stems from a general moral obligation to prevent harm to (infection of) others if this can be done. Most democracies have public health laws that do permit quarantine. Even though quarantine is a curtailment of civil liberties, it can be broadly justified if several criteria can be met.


Secondly, the proportionality, or least-restrictive-means, principle should be observed. This holds that public health authorities should use the least restrictive measures proportional to the goal of achieving disease control. This would indicate that quarantine be made voluntary before more restrictive means and sanctions such as mandatory orders or surveillance devices, home cameras, bracelets, or incarceration are contemplated. It is striking to note that in the Canadian SARS outbreak in the Greater Toronto area, approximately 30,000 persons were quarantined at some time. Toronto Public Health reports writing only 22 orders for mandatory detainment [3]. Even if the report is a tenfold underestimate, the remaining instances of voluntary quarantine constitute an impressive display of civic-mindedness.

Thirdly, reciprocity must be upheld. If society asks individuals to curtail their liberties for the good of others, society has a reciprocal obligation to assist them in the discharge of their obligations. That means providing individuals with adequate food and shelter and psychological support, accommodating them in their workplaces, and not discriminating against them. They should suffer no penalty on account of discharging their obligations to society.

The info is here.