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Treating the Very Ill Like Criminals

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July 20, 2007

Until yesterday, Robert Daniels was being held in the jail ward of a Phoenix hospital for nearly a year. He’s been a virtual captive since being diagnosed with a an extremely drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis. The ACLU sued to have him moved to a less restrictive, but still quarantined, part of the facility, where he wouldn’t be treated like criminal. During his stay in the jail ward, he was subject to strip searches, not allowed any visitors at all, and the one time he was allowed outside, he was shackled hand and foot. So, not an environment especially conducive to recovering from a deadly disease.

Yesterday Daniels was moved to the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Colorado, the same hospital where infamous TB patient Andrew Speaker is being treated. Since their hospitalization, both Daniels and Speaker have been found to have a less deadly strain of TB than previously thought – making Daniels’ incarceration-like conditions and the Phoenix hospital’s infringement on his rights all the more egregious. This inaccurate diagnosis also highlights the point we made when the Speaker story first emerged:

“Due process rights are particularly important as modern medicine advances, and diagnoses of illnesses are increasingly made based on advanced technological tests, where the individual may have no symptoms, and the threat that disease will be spread may be unknown, ambiguous, or in dispute – or may even be the result of a laboratory error.”

Let’s hope these mistakes will inform future conduct towards the very ill in the future.

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