Treating the Patient - Not the Disease

24 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2015 Last revised: 8 Apr 2015

See all articles by Alexandra Bhatti

Alexandra Bhatti

Arizona Summit Law School, Students

Date Written: February 20, 2015


"Treating the Patient-Not the Disease" analyzes national and international outbreak response measures through a therapeutic jurisprudence lens using the Ebola outbreak as a reference measure. This analysis reviews case law, constitutional law, law reviews, international regulations and other scientific data to reach its proposal. In the United States, federal and state governments have the authority to invade privacy and compromise a citizen's liberty to serve the compelling interest of preventing the spread of an infectious disease. For this reason there are surveillance measures in place and communication channels between necessary stakeholders. Additionally, in the event of an outbreak, those exposed may be subjected to mandatory quarantine, while those infected are subjected to isolation. Furthermore, each state outlines its own quarantine measures. Such actions are necessary to protect the public, but at what cost? Some subjected to quarantine during the Ebola outbreak stated their conditions were inhumane, humiliating and emotionally damaging.

Additionally, the media's involvement in the sharing of personal private information regarding those infected and exposed is perhaps most debilitating. The laws that health care providers and other obligated agencies are required to follow regarding to maintenance of patient privacy do not apply to the media. Shortly after Thomas Duncan was hospitalized, his name, photos, pictures of the apartment where he was staying, and information about his girlfriend and family were on the internet, television and print media. There should be more safeguards in place to consciously review the information shared to the media and then publicly, so that only the essential information is shared.

From a global approach, many countries overreact during an outbreak and turn to an isolationist, protectionist mode, following the precautionary principle that it is better to be safe than sorry. Such actions do not just affect the international trade, which from an economic standpoint is considerable, but it also pulls the community further apart. From a therapeutic end, this results in behaviors that are inherently more individually focused rather than community focused which could have a trickle down effect in a country’s own legislation and outbreak response measures. This paper also reviews the International Health Regulations and its role in outbreak response; its strengths and weaknesses; and identifies opportunities for improvement.

The purpose is to identify ways, both nationally and internationally, in which policies and standardized approaches can change to better serve those exposed and potentially infected with an infectious disease, while still protecting the community at large. It is critical as a local, national, and global community to treat those afflicted or exposed to a disease as well as protecting the rest of the community.

Keywords: health law, public health, public health law, Therapeutic jurisprudence, international health, constitutional law, infectious diseases, Information privacy, state and local government, government policy, health policy, ebola, outbreak, reponse

JEL Classification: I00,I1, I12, I18, K00, K32, K30, K33, I19, I11, H51

Suggested Citation

Bhatti, Alexandra, Treating the Patient - Not the Disease (February 20, 2015). Available at SSRN: or

Alexandra Bhatti (Contact Author)

Arizona Summit Law School, Students ( email )

Phoenix, AZ
United States

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