The appearance and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
on a global level raised vital legal and ethical issues. National and international
responses to SARS have profound implications for 3 important ethical values:
privacy, liberty, and the duty to protect the public's health. This article
examines, through legal and ethical lenses, various methods that countries
used in reaction to the SARS outbreak: surveillance and contact tracing, isolation
and quarantine, and travel restrictions. These responses, at least in some
combination, succeeded in bringing the outbreak to an end. The article articulates
a set of legal and ethical recommendations for responding to infectious disease
threats, seeking to reconcile the tension between the public's health and
individual rights to privacy, liberty, and freedom of movement. The ethical
values that inform the recommendations include the precautionary principle,
the least restrictive/intrusive alternative, justice, and transparency. Development
of a set of legal and ethical recommendations becomes even more essential
when, as was true with SARS and will undoubtedly be the case with future epidemics,
scientific uncertainty is pervasive and urgent public health action is required.
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