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Medical quarantines often threaten the civil rights of the persons whom they confine. This might happen in two ways. First, quarantines might inflict harsh conditions on their occupants; and, second, quarantines might be imposed in an arbitrary or indeed discriminatory manner. These concerns, moreover, are anything but fantastic. Infectious diseases, particularly in epidemic forms, commonly trigger retributive and discriminatory instincts, so that actual quarantines often impose inhumane, stigmatizing, or even penal treatment upon persons who are confined based on caprice or even prejudice.
But quarantines that impose no gratuitous hardships and that are applied pursuant to orderly and non-discriminatory procedures are theoretically possible and also practically available. And such well-run quarantines, especially when they are employed to combat epidemic diseases, cannot plausibly be said to violate the civil rights of the quarantined. Even the staunchest civil libertarian must accept that one person's liberty may be restricted when this is necessary for preventing harm to another. And well-run quarantines confine only those whose continued integration in the general population has been reasonably adjudged to expose others to infection and, moreover, impose no burdens beyond those necessary for protecting against this harm. The civil libertarian objection therefore identifies abuses in quarantine administration. It does not apply to quarantines per se.
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