Despite significant reforms to state, tribal and local emergency laws over the past decade, regional legal responses to public health emergencies continue to be disparate and, at times, conflicting. Modern public health legal reforms offer an array of legal options for lawmakers and policy-makers, but do not always prescribe specific actions that legal and public health practitioners must take during emergencies. Rather, emergency laws generally present a menu of legal choices, often with little guidance for leaders making key decisions. This makes it challenging for public health leaders to ensure that the decisions they make during health emergencies– on issues including surge capacity, quickly spreading infectious diseases and allocation of scarce resources– fall within traditional legal norms.
The primer provides an overview of the Ebola outbreak in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and examines emerging emergency legal preparedness issues in the U.S. as federal, state and local health officials consider measures to protect the public’s health in the event of the further spread of the disease.
Thursday, December 11 at 3 p.m. ET. In this webinar, global health law leader Lawrence O. Gostin will discuss the international public health community’s response to the Ebola crisis, as well as vulnerabilities in the U.S., and examine the gaps and challenges currently existing in global preparedness and response systems. View the playback.
The story of Nurse Kaci Hickox, who famously fought quarantine attempts after returning from Seirra Leone, is a cautionary tale for those charged with protecting the public’s health from infectious diseases like Ebola.
Aid workers exposed to the Ebola virus have returned to the United States from West Africa, prompting questions about the enforcement of quarantines.
Legal authorities vary across states, tribal governments and localities during declared emergencies. As seen during the 2009-2010 H1N1 outbreak, jurisdictions may take divergent legal approaches in their responses to national or regional public health threats. Conflicting laws and overlapping jurisdictions further complicate key decisions on when or how to respond.
Public health officials may face many critical legal and policy decisions during public health emergencies, including:
The Network for Public Health Law can provide legal guidance, training and support to address these and other legal and policy issues in emergency preparedness. These issues may be addressed during non-emergencies through advance planning and education, innovative exercises and other training efforts. During emergency declarations, the Network can provide real-time legal guidance to help public health leaders as they respond and make critical decisions with potential legal ramifications.
For legal technical assistance and support with emergency legal preparedness and response:
You can also call your region to get legal assistance at:
The Network will not share your contact information with external parties without consent.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, please consult specific legal counsel. For more information on the type of legal assistance the Network can provide, please see frequently asked questions.