Health Law and Ethics |

The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act:  Planning for and Response to Bioterrorism and Naturally Occurring Infectious Diseases

Lawrence O. Gostin, JD; Jason W. Sapsin, JD; Stephen P. Teret, JD, MPH; Scott Burris, JD; Julie Samia Mair, JD, MPH; James G. Hodge, Jr, JD, LLM; Jon S. Vernick, JD, MPH
JAMA. 2002;288(5):622-628. doi:10.1001/jama.288.5.622.
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The Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities drafted the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MSEHPA or Model Act) at the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Model Act provides state actors with the powers they need to detect and contain bioterrorism or a naturally occurring disease outbreak. Legislative bills based on the MSEHPA have been introduced in 34 states. Problems of obsolescence, inconsistency, and inadequacy may render current state laws ineffective or even counterproductive. State laws often date back to the early 20th century and have been built up in layers over the years. They frequently predate the vast changes in the public health sciences and constitutional law.

The Model Act is structured to reflect 5 basic public health functions to be facilitated by law: (1) preparedness, comprehensive planning for a public health emergency; (2) surveillance, measures to detect and track public health emergencies; (3) management of property, ensuring adequate availability of vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and hospitals, as well as providing power to abate hazards to the public's health; (4) protection of persons, powers to compel vaccination, testing, treatment, isolation, and quarantine when clearly necessary; and (5) communication, providing clear and authoritative information to the public. The Model Act also contains a modernized, extensive set of principles and requirements to safeguard personal rights. Law can be a tool to improve public health preparedness. A constitutional democracy must balance the common good with respect for personal dignity, toleration of groups, and adherence to principles of justice.

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