Author Affiliations: Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, and the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
Health Law and Ethics Section Editors: Lawrence
O. Gostin, JD, Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown University,
Washington, DC, and the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md; Helene M.
Cole, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.
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.
Lawrence O. Gostin, Jason W. Sapsin, Stephen P. Teret, Scott Burris, Julie Samia Mair, James G. Hodge, Jr, Jon S. Vernick. The Model State Emergency Health Powers ActPlanning for and Response to Bioterrorism and Naturally Occurring Infectious Diseases. JAMA. 2002;288(5):622–628. doi:10.1001/jama.288.5.622