Local Governance and Pandemics: Lessons from the 1918 Flu
37 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2009
Date Written: February 19, 2009
Recent legal scholarship has grappled with how states and communities can best balance risk management and liberty in their responses to catastrophic events such as pandemics, bioterrorist attacks, and other public health emergencies. However, this scholarship lacks a historical perspective. This Article helps to fill that gap by examining the worst epidemic in American history - the 1918 influenza outbreak. The Article introduces a framework that links local responses to the catastrophe with corresponding public health and political theories. This historical analysis suggests that public health officials are best situated to assess in the first instance the risks of a disease or health emergency; however, as citizens have more time to consider the crisis and its consequences, they may prove to have the best vantage point from which to deliberate and balance between their health and their freedoms. Methodologically, the Article draws from a range of disciplines, including social history, legal history, political theory, and cognitive psychology.
Keywords: public health, risk, legal history
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