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Handcuffing the Flu: Can a Law Enforcement/National Security Approach to Pandemic Preparedness Protect the American People?

Monica Schoch-Spana
Date posted:
January 14, 2008
Publication type:
Prepared remarks

Remarks delivered by Monica Schoch-Spana, PhD, on January 14, 2008, to mark the release of the ACLU's report: Pandemic Preparedness: The Need for a Public Health—Not a Law Enforcement/National Security–Approach, by George J. Annas, Wendy K. Mariner and Wendy E. Parmet. 

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Written remarks as PDF


My thanks to the ACLU for its close attention to public health preparedness matters, to the report authors for their insightful analysis, and to the health authorities who work tirelessly behind the scenes to protect against pandemic flu.

At the outset, let me say that my colleagues at the Center for Biosecurity and I concur wholeheartedly with the report’s principal argument that effective policies for pandemic influenza and other public health emergencies cannot be “built around a vision of sick people as the enemy” (p. 5). The authors rightly contend that disease control methods that compromise democratic ideals of self-determination and equality of persons can inadvertently spread an epidemic further.

Several threads are worth extending out from the ACLU's argument that a “gates and guards” approach to epidemic management threatens the health and liberty of the American public.

First, a fortress mentality distills public health into the singular goal of stopping flu from making its way from an infected person over “there” to an uninfected community over “here.” This linear idea is mentally satisfying, but falsely reassuring. Second, the priority focus within U.S. pandemic plans on controlling contagion has unwittingly diverted attention from caring for the sick—an equally compelling population health problem in a pandemic. Lastly, members of the public—rather than a blank slate onto which containment policies are written—are capable partners alongside health authorities in minimizing the effects of a pandemic flu. I’d like to address each of these points in turn.

Written remarks as PDF



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