Swine Flu: A Danger to Your Rights as Well as Your Health?

Panelists agreed that the government's response to H1N1 has been timely and proportionate, but voiced concerns about how governments may employ executive powers if more virulent strands of the flu merge.
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Earlier today, the Constitution Project and the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security brought together a group of expert panelists at the National Press Club to discuss the civil liberties implications of the government's response to the H1N1 flu, more commonly known as swine flu.

Moderator Sharon Bradford Franklin, Senior Policy Counsel at the Constitution Project, opened the event with a brief overview of recent news developments in the H1N1 outbreak. The panel featured Professor Michael Greenberger, Director of the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, Professor Wendy Mariner of the Boston University School of Public health, and Dr. Marita Mike, the Health Director at the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security.

Dr. Mike began the conversation by offering a medical perspective on the unique health risks posed by the H1N1 flu, comparing the most recent outbreak with past public health crises in the United States. Professor Greenberger built on the doctor's introduction by outlining the remarkably broad executive powers that may be leveraged at the state and federal levels to combat the flu. Finally, Professor Mariner rejected the notion that emergency preparedness laws can prevent disease, and critiqued the post-9/11 focus on coercive public health tools that threaten individual civil liberties. Instead, she argued that the focus of the government's response to the H1N1 flu should be on creating a healthy, educated population that has plentiful access to information, vaccines, and other medical care.

The discussion featured vigorous exchanges on the constitutional concerns raised by quarantines, mandatory vaccinations, and interstate travel restrictions. The panelists agreed that the federal government's response to the H1N1 flu has been timely and proportionate to the real dangers posed by the disease, but voiced concerns about how state and federal governments may employ existing executive powers if more virulent strands of the flu merge. The panelists encouraged members of the public to take appropriate health precautions, and urged a rational public dialogue on the tools state and federal governments need, or think they need, to effectively combat public health risks like the H1N1 flu.

Today's event drew a diverse and engaged audience to the National Press Club's Murrow Room, including attendees from various print and radio news outlets, the Department of Homeland Security, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, congressional staff, as well as numerous other advocacy and health organizations. To see photos from this afternoon's event, please click here. A video of the discussion will be posted as soon as it's available.

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