Behind the county hospital’s tall cinderblock walls, a 27-year-old tuberculosis patient sits in a jail cell equipped with a ventilation system that keeps germs from escaping.
Robert Daniels has been locked up indefinitely, perhaps for the rest of his life, since last July. But he has not been charged with a crime. Instead, he suffers from an extensively drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis, or XDR-TB. It is considered virtually untreatable.
County health authorities obtained a court order to lock him up as a danger to the public because he failed to take precautions to avoid infecting others. Specifically, he said he did not heed doctors’ instructions to wear a mask in public.
Now this guy softened the hard question a bit by refusing to take what I'd say were relatively unobtrusive precautionary measures. But I'm curious, what do H&R readers make of the collision of individual rights and the state's arguable (I'd say convincing) duty to protect us from highly-communicable, untreatable fatal diseases?
The idea that someone who's done nothing wrong could be condemned to an isolation cell for the remainder of his life is pretty horrifying. And certainly we should be thinking ahead, so that those who are infected with the allegedly approaching "super bugs" are as comfortable as possible. But even then, is it acceptable to lock someone up in isolation for life? What criteria must a disease meet to merit such drastic containment measures?
And what measures should we put in place to ensure that the government doesn't abuse whatever powers it claims (or if you're idealistic, that we grant it) in the name of fighting these diseases?
I don't have answers. Just questions. Have at it.