St. Paul, Minn. (Oct. 27, 2014) — Earlier today, Governor Mark Dayton along with state health officials announced new restrictions on medical personnel who treated Ebola patients or individuals who were exposed to Ebola in West Africa for when when they return to Minnesota. The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota responded by issuing this statement, which can be attributed to its executive director, Charles Samuelson:
Quarantines, like all involuntary detentions, raise significant civil liberties concerns. They’re justified in some circumstances, but they must be limited to when they are needed to address genuine public health concerns. This is a serious intrusion on individual liberty that should be utilized as narrowly as possible.
Minnesota law requires a court order before isolating or quarantining a person in most cases. In extreme circumstances individuals can be quarantined first, but the Comissioner of Health must immediately apply for a court order. From the documents issued it apepaers the Department of Health and Governor Dayton are leaving the courts out of the process which the ACLU-MN finds concerning.
By forcibly detaining people we are also frightening the public and may deter genuinely sick people who fear quarantine from seeking the treatments they deserve, while also discouraging caregivers and first responders from helping sick patients who need their assistance.
The Minnesota quarantine is not limited to people who are infectious and should be modified so it addresses the important public health concern that we all share in preventing infection, but does not needlessly or excessively subject individuals to severe restrictions on their liberty. Changing the quarantine to apply only to those exhibiting symptoms protects both the individual and the greater good as the collateral consequences of excessive and overly broad use of quarantines may undermine the health interests they are supposed to serve — demonizing heroic health workers and discouraging them from participating in the worldwide and local efforts to stop Ebola.
This is a challenging issue to face, but decisions must be made based on sound medicine, and not on fear.