HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Updates on Flu Preparation: ACLU weighs in

DemFromCt writes at the Daily Kos blog and has an update on preparations for a flu pandemic.  The story reports on the ACLU report on issued last week and drafted by the illustrious George Annas and Wendy K. Mariner from the Boston University School of Public Health and Wendy E. Parmet of Northeastern Law School.  The story provides a brief summary of the report as well as a link to the full version.  It states,

. . . .  the ACLU issued a strongly-worded report entitled Pandemic Preparedness: The Need for a Public Health — Not a Law Enforcement/National Security — Approach, co-authored by George Annas, the same author of the Boston Globe editorial from 2005 . . .

Here's a summary from CIDRAP, which also includes reactions to the plan:

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) this week charged that federal pandemic planning efforts rely too heavily on law enforcement and national security approaches, in effect making people, not disease, the enemy.

The ACLU aired its concerns in a report authored by three prominent public health law attorneys and released Jan 14 at a press conference in Washington, DC. The authors are George Annas and Wendy K. Mariner from the Boston University School of Public Health and Wendy E. Parmet of Northeastern Law School.

The report discusses a wide range of privacy protections and other civil liberties that the ACLU believes might be threatened in a pandemic setting. The authors include a list of recommendations intended to focus pandemic planning efforts more toward community engagement, as well as an appendix that covers a number of constitutional issues that could surface during a pandemic.

"A law enforcement approach is just the wrong tool for the job when it comes to fighting disease," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's technology and liberty program, in a Jan 14 press release. He said history shows that a coercive approach to pandemic that treats sick people as enemies is ineffective from a public health perspective.

But a spokesman for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says the group has mischaracterized the government's efforts. Also, other critics with expertise in public health and the law say the ACLU report is marred by a misunderstanding of government response plans.

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