Implementation of medical quarantines in America brings into conflict various legitimate arguments regarding who, if anyone, should have the authority to restrict movements of citizens. Quarantines are not new, but they exist now in a world with new dangers and new opportunities for abuse.
In teaching medical students in recent years, it became apparent that many students found the concept of a home quarantine to be abhorrent. Many were aghast at the concept that a patient could be restricted from daily activities, and found it an egregious violation of civil liberties and ethical conduct. Interestingly, these views were often not mitigated substantially when students were informed that, in former days, quarantines were fairly common in this country and elsewhere. In a world before the Internet in which home confinement was really quite restrictive, medical quarantines for diseases such as small pox, tuberculosis, or even measles were not uncommon. Such quarantines were usually imposed by a local health official. In addition, many families self-quarantined, or at least avoided exposure to potential sources of disease. For example, some people used to avoid many summer activities for fear of contracting polio. Due largely to the development of vaccination, many of the diseases that would have invoked a quarantine in earlier years are no longer of concern, and the concept of quarantine has become a bit anachronistic, even in a world that offers many portals that would seemingly make confinement less onerous. But the topic of quarantine requires renewed consideration in the world of today.
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