Tears in Heaven: Religiously and Culturally Sensitive Laws for Preventing the Next Pandemic
45 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2017 Last revised: 23 Feb 2017
Date Written: January 27, 2017
In February 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a “public health emergency of international concern” due to the increased clusters of microcephaly, Guillain-Barré Syndrome, and other neurological disorders in areas affected by the Zika virus. That declaration came in the wake of the West Africa Ebola crisis. Back to back declarations by WHO of the highest threat level for an international public health emergency underscores how quickly pathogens can now spread and cause devastation across borders. It also highlights the need to implement lessons learned from each pandemic crisis without delay.
These crises demonstrate that laws to curtail the spread of deadly contagious diseases need to be drafted and implemented in ways to maximize community acceptance. Without prudently crafted laws in place that are as consistent as possible with community mores, threats from deadly diseases may cause anxiety and panic, and governments may react to political and public pressures and mandate rules that may unnecessarily impinge on personal rights and deeply held religious beliefs. Infringing upon ideological or religious beliefs could lead to increased distrust of government and civil disobedience and could also, paradoxically, undermine the goal of preventing the spread of infectious disease. This article focuses on applying to future pandemics a critical lesson from prior crises — the need for public health officials to accommodate religious and cultural practices of the community to more effectively implement emergency measures. Further, the article proposes an interdisciplinary and proactive approach to development of laws and regulations to create a system that is adaptable, acceptable to the community, and scientifically sound.
Keywords: Constitutional Law, Cultural Practice, Death, Ritual, Emergency, Epidemic, Pandemic, Human Remains, International Health Regulations, Infectious Disease, Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, Public Health, Crisis, Religion, World Health Organization, Zika, Ebola, Interdisciplinary, Anthropology
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