Doomsday: A Look at the Ethical Issues behind the Government's Coercive Powers in Response to a Public Health Nightmare.


This article posits a hypothetical scenario in which a deadly pandemic is unleashed upon the United States and the several individuals whom appear to have a natural immunity refuse to participate in necessary research. The article then examines the possible legal and ethical approaches available for reacting to the pandemic.

The hypothetical scenario addressed in this article highlights a gap in current public health law. While various states have laws and procedures relating to quarantine and forced inoculation, these laws and procedures do not suggest whether the state may or may not coerce non-threatening individuals into participating in potentially dangerous research solely for the benefit of the public health.

This gap in public health law is potentially dangerous as it could confound the public health response to a deadly pandemic. This problem is made even more troublesome in a post 9/11 world where a bioterrorism event could closely mimic the hypothetical scenario and would demand a quick and cohesive response from the public health system.

This article suggests a new approach for dealing with public health conundrums where the coercion of a citizen may be necessary, which is based on the same ethical rationales as previous public health policies.


Constitutional Law | Health Law and Policy | Medical Jurisprudence | Public Law and Legal Theory | Social Welfare Law

Date of this Version

January 2007