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What Lies Ahead?  

What Lies Ahead?

Tributes adorn the fence bordering St. Paul's Chapel

The majority of Americans believe that the United States will be the target of another terrorist attack, but no one knows with any degree of certainty what form that will take, when it will occur, or if it will occur intermittently into our future. As of this writing the source of the Anthrax germ that was distributed through the mail system in October remains unknown. The effect of the scare is that the world is immediately more educated about germ warfare and the realistic threats of bioterrorism.

Eric Feldman, Professor of Law, joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania this year. He is an expert in health law and believes that the most significant development since the Anthrax scare has been the drafting of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MSEHPA), announced on October 30 th and written by Johns Hopkins University’s and Georgetown University’s Center for Law and the Public Health for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As Feldman explains, “The Act is aimed at facilitating the ability of state governors and public health officials to respond to emergencies. It allows the governor to declare a public health emergency, and permits state health authorities to close facilities; control roads and public areas; compel individuals to undergo physicals exams, testing, and treatment; isolate/quarantine people if they determine it necessary to protect the public health, and obtain private health information.”

The drafting of the Act had been underway for a long while, but the urgency of enacting it by state legislatures and implemented by state public health authorities was elevated with the Anthrax contaminations in October.”

Although the drafters sought to balance the need to protect the public health with the importance of respecting individual rights and liberties,” Feldman continues, “some critics have charged that the Act represents a draconian response to the anthrax scare that gives governors and public health authorities far too much power. What, for example, counts as a public health emergency? How many cases of a particular disease are necessary for the provisions of the MEHPA to come into play? The principles underlying these issues are not new. But the events of the past months brings them into sharp relief, and makes their practical resolution a seemingly urgent matter. Considering the range of legal and medical responses available to state and federal authorities when faced with a bioterrorist threat was, just a few months ago, a problem that was all too easily ignored. It has become a hotly contested issue that is likely to become a key issue in legal scholarship, teaching, and practice. We can no longer simply assume that bioterrorism is the province of creative moviemakers or the worry of eccentric worrywarts. We have been forced to understand that even the simplest of acts, like opening the mail, can be fraught with danger. The institutions that make life in the United States so extraordinarily privileged – mail, public transportation, and many others – turn out to be vulnerable. Who would have ever predicted such a transformation

 
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