Pandemic Influenza: Ethics, Law, and the Public's Health
This Faculty Working Paper has been updated and posted within the Georgetown Law Faculty Publications series in the Scholarly Commons. It is currently available at http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/449/
Highly pathogenic Influenza (HPAI) has captured the close attention of policy makers who regard pandemic influenza as a national security threat. Although the prevalence is currently very low, recent evidence that the 1918 pandemic was caused by an avian influenza virus lends credence to the theory that current outbreaks could have pandemic potential. If the threat becomes a reality, massive loss of life and economic disruption would ensue. Therapeutic countermeasures (e.g., vaccines and antiviral medications) and public health interventions (e.g., infection control, social separation, and quarantine) form the two principal strategies for prevention and response, both of which present formidable legal and ethical challenges that have yet to receive sufficient attention. In part II, we examine the major medical countermeasures being being considered as an intervention for an influenza pandemic. In this section, we will evaluate the known effectiveness of these interventions and analyze the ethical claims relating to distributive justice in the allocation of scarce resources. In part III, we will discuss public health interventions, exploring the hard tradeoffs between population health on the one hand and personal (e.g., autonomy, privacy, and liberty) and economic (e.g., trade, tourism, and business) interests on the other. This section will focus on the ethical and human rights issues inherent in population-based interventions. Pandemics can be deeply socially divisive, and the political response to these issues not only impacts public health preparedness, but also reflects profoundly on the kind of society we aspire to be.