Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Swine flu could raise constitutional issues

By EMILY MULLIN, Scripps Howard News Service
Posted November 3, 2009 at 5:11 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Civil liberties advocates caution that mandatory vaccinations, forced quarantines and restricted interstate travel would not only endanger individual rights but also would be unlikely to prevent disease in the event of a severe H1N1 outbreak. "These raise the highest constitutional problems," said Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, at a recent panel discussion.

Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, an advocacy organization for civil rights, said it's important to consider the "potential impact of individual rights" and the "legitimate scope of government power" in the event of a flu pandemic.

Last month, an order that would have required all New York State health workers to get the H1N1 vaccine created a public outcry. The mandate was rescinded after state officials said the vaccine was in short supply, but the issue of mandatory vaccination raises serious legal and constitutional issues.

"You can't force someone to get a vaccine you don't have," said Wendy Mariner, author and professor of health law at Boston University.

Mariner said that new laws imposing mandates in the event of a national emergency, such as a severe flu pandemic, are unnecessary and often create public backlash.


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