You probably thought that we’d heard the last of Kaci Hickox some time ago. As you may recall, she’s the nurse who returned to the United States from treating Ebola patients in Africa and was held in quarantine in New Jersey for a a few days. She complained bitterly, left her impromptu isolation area, went home to Maine and went out for a bicycle ride with her boyfriend over the strenuous objections of Governor Paul LePage.
She wound up not being a carrier of the dreaded disease, but apparently she hasn’t gotten over the treatment she received in an effort to prevent the spread of the virus. She’s back in the news this week and she’s suing Chris Christie for a quarter million dollars.
A nurse who was quarantined against her will inside a plastic tent in New Jersey after treating Ebola patients in West Africa filed a civil rights lawsuit against Governor Chris Christie on Thursday, her lawyer said.
Kaci Hickox is claiming in her lawsuit that Christie, now a Republican presidential candidate, unconstitutionally and unreasonably detained, isolated and quarantined her in October last year without a valid legal or medical reason.
“This case is about liberty and freedom,” said Norman Siegel, Hickox’s attorney. “It’s also about accountability, holding even governors accountable for their violations of citizens’ constitutional rights.”
Hickox, who became known in the media as the “Ebola nurse,” is seeking compensatory and punitive damages of at least $250,000, Siegel said.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the 2014 Ebola outbreak was that the number of cases in the United States was held to under a dozen with only two deaths. While proving a negative is impossible, it’s hard to dismiss the probability that the numbers were so low precisely because of the stringent – some might say almost paranoid – precautions taken by government agencies and the more responsible medical professionals who chose to quarantine themselves rather than risk the health of the general population. If that genie had gotten fully out of the bottle in a crowded urban environment the results could have been catastrophic.
With that in mind, I find it hard to muster much sympathy for Ms. Hickox. Even the most libertarian among us would surely admit that your personal liberty and freedom to roam the public square can and should be limited if the possibility exists that that you’re carrying a communicable disease which decimated the populations of several areas in Africa. Even having tested negative for the disease was not, at least in the opinion of some medical authorities, an absolute assurance that the patient wouldn’t present symptoms later. Ms. Hickox is to be commended for her dedication to human life and willingness to risk her own to travel abroad and help people in distress. I just wish she had exhibited the same level of compassion for her fellow Americans upon her return when the cost she needed to pay was little more than sitting quietly and watching television for a couple of weeks on the government dime.
So can this suit succeed? Hey… this is America and anyone with a good enough lawyer can get away with almost anything. But if she does we may face some problems in the future. Does the government not have the power to isolate potential medical threats in this fashion? And if not, what protections can they offer to the rest of the citizenry? In the end such questions may have to be decided one disease at a time with a different level of control for each. We’ll need to know precisely how much faith we can place in tests to determine the status of those exposed to such diseases and what the incubation time for each is. Until then, let’s hope that the courts err on the side of caution.