Protecting the public's health in an era of bioterrorism: The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act

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4 Scopus citations


During the fall of 2001, public health law scholars at the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown and Johns Hopkins Universities were asked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and a series of national partners to develop the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (MSEHPA). The MSEHPA provides a series of modern powers for states to consider in responding to catastrophic public health emergencies, including bioterrorism events. Since December 2001, provisions based on the MSEHPA have been introduced in nearly 40 states and passed in 20. Underlying the development of the act is a long-standing debate between legal and ethical scholars and law- and policymakers as to the appropriate ways to balance individual and communal rights. The drafting challenge was to create a comprehensive model law that provides adequate powers to protect the public's health while also respecting individual and group rights. The MSEHPA empowers public health agents with broad authority and simultaneously limits the exercise of power in time, duration, and scope to accomplish communal goals of abating serious public health threats. Coercive public health powers, particularly isolation and quarantine, are exercised on a temporary basis, only so long as are reasonably necessary and only among persons who justifiably may pose a risk to others because of their contagious conditions. Individual rights to contest the coercive use of public health powers, even during an emergency, are secured.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)91-107
Number of pages17
JournalAccountability in Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Library and Information Sciences


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