Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should the U.S. Government Have Quarantined Andrew Speaker?

Four years ago today, American lawyer Andrew Speaker sparked a transcontinental game of cat and mouse when the U.S. government discovered he had a rare, infectious, and deadly disease before he flew overseas to get married. What followed was a controversial set of consequences that made headlines around the world.

His tale is a precarious example in deciding whether or not to quarantine targeted individuals for society's sake. In 2007, Speaker was believed to have acquired extensively-drug resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) in the United States, and then he flew to Greece to get married, followed by Italy for his honeymoon. Upon discovering Speaker had the most lethal form of tuberculosis a week and a half after leaving the U.S., the American government ordered him to return home. He did so, but not before he booked a foreign flight from Italy to the Czech Republic, from there to Canada, and from there back to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia in a rental car. He was eventually apprehended and sent to Denver, Colorado for further tests, where it was discovered that Speaker only had multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB), not the XDR-TB that the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) initially diagnosed him with [2]. In an ironic twist, Speaker's father-in-law worked with the CDC as a research microbiologist in the field of tuberculosis elimination [1]. Following a surgery that removed a portion of his lung infected with MDR-TB, Speaker was cleared as non-contagious, and he returned home. The furor that followed boiled down to one question: was Andrew Speaker in the wrong to knowingly put thousands of people at risk for a deadly disease? Yes, but ultimately no.

As swift as it sounds, the government does more harm than good in the involuntary detainment of its law-abiding citizens, even those who pose a biological threat to society. The main proponent in defense of Speaker was that he was eventually returning to America on his own free will to get treated where he felt most comfortable. It should also be noted that most people who are sick, even with something as simple as the common cold, purposefully quarantine themselves from the outside world, and they have no problem getting better [1]. Another argument in favor of Speaker is that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security need not have any medical training to make a decision on whether or not to quarantine people [1]. This means anyone without a medical background in this government agency can condemn a person they suspect with a serious disease, like Speaker, to be treated as someone less than human. There's also an ethical conduct that was violated by the government in their treatment of him. Civil libertarians who have defended people like Speaker protest that his time spent in confinement infringed upon his liberty, his individual rights, and – potentially – his bodily integrity [2]. Personally, I think both parties crossed boundaries, but the U.S. government’s actions were more egregious. They were wrong in their diagnosis of him, and they were wrong to subject him to their method of treatment. If they can justify locking people up for the presence of an infectious disease, then it won’t be long before they start hauling people in for the mere threat of having any disease. Speaker's case is an anomaly, but the government’s reaction is not uncommon when they have too much authority in policing its citizens. Stop the quarantines, and start getting this country back to greatness.

(Academic) Works Cited
[1] Akers, Becky. "The Quarantine Quandary." Independent Review, Vol. 12 (4), Spring 2008. Pp. 591-605.

[2] Fidler, David P.; Lawrence O. Gostin; and Howard Markel. "Through the Quarantine Looking Glass: Drug-Resistant Tuberculosis and Public Health Governance, Law, and Ethics." Journal of Law – Medicine & Ethics, Vol. 35 (4), Winter 2007. Pp. 616-629.

No comments:

Post a Comment