ACLU Report: Government Must Abandon Misguided Approach to Pandemic Preparedness

January 14, 2008 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As fears of a flu pandemic have grown, the Bush administration has pursued a misguided approach to pandemic preparation that relies on a law enforcement/national security approach, rather than a public health approach to the problem, and which exposes Americans to unnecessary risk. That is the finding of an expert report being released today by the American Civil Liberties Union at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

“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. “History makes clear that a heavy-handed, coercive approach to pandemics that treats the sick as potential enemies is not only an unnecessary violation of civil liberties but is also ineffective from a public health standpoint and will leave more Americans stranded, sick and untreated.”

The report was prepared for the ACLU by three prominent experts on the subject: George Annas and Wendy K. Mariner of Boston University School of Public Health, and Wendy E. Parmet of Northeastern Law School.

“When people are sick, they want help – help getting treated and help ensuring they don’t make others sick,” said Parmet. “History shows that treating sick people like potential enemies only spurs them to avoid the authorities and exacerbates the spread of disease.”

The report was being released today in a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, followed by a panel discussion with several top experts.

“It is true that there are always a few cases where individuals flout the law and put other people at risk,” said Parmet. “But existing government authorities provide ample powers for dealing with such cases – and the problem is that our pandemic preparations are being centered around such contingencies, rather than from the long list of gaping needs that public health experts say we face in preparing for and responding to a real pandemic.”

Video of an ACLU-hosted panel discussion featuring Parmet and other experts discussing pandemic preparedness will be made available online at

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