Should We Impose Preventive Quarantine Requirements In Times Of Infectious Disease Epidemics?

by jrivard on Février 3, 2015 - 4:01pm

Not so long ago, the outbreak of Ebola and the problems resulting from it were all over the news.  Among these problems was the concern about whether the government should impose preventive quarantine requirements on healthcare workers exposed to Ebola patients or not.  This issue is presented in the article "Why Hickox should have obeyed" (Goozner) published on the online database Modern Healthcare last November. The article recounts the story of Kaci Hickox, a nurse returning from Sierra Leone who refused to be held in quarantine. Hickox showed no symptoms of the Ebola fever and argued that, therefore, holding her in quarantine as a precaution was a violation of her civil rights. This disobedience to the law has been the source of many debates about the importance of discipline to protect public health during disease outbreaks.

Many questions are raised by this case. Are such measures necessary? Abusive? Against civil rights? Unjust? Or is it best for the common good? Different ethical principles apply and create a dilemma when people's ethical perspectives differ. On one hand, someone with a Utilitarian ethical perspective would argue that one must do what benefits the most people. Imposing quarantine requirements to people exposed to Ebola even if they show no signs of infection could help avoid the spreading of the disease. Therefore, the latter would argue that we should impose preventive quarantine requirements if it is for the greater good. However, one with a Kantian ethical perspective would follow the principle that it is immoral to violate one's civil rights without any good reason. Accordingly, ordering someone to stay home without scientific evidence that this person could carry the disease is a violation to the latter's rights, and we should not do it. Given these different and yet relevant views, it is obvious that the appropriate measures to take in such cases are hard to determine.  


Work cited


Goozner, Merrill. “Why Hickox should have obeyed.” Modern Healthcare 44.44 (2014): 38. Academic Search Premier. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.



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