The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

4208.0: Tuesday, November 18, 2003 - 2:50 PM

Abstract #70448

Can Patient Rights Survive Preparation for Bioterrorism?

Wendy K. Mariner, JD, MPH, Professor of Health Law, Boston University School of Public Health, 715 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118, 617 638-4626,

New initiatives to respond to mass disasters like bioterrorism include surveillance and control of people in their role as patients. Measures like reporting cases of disease to government agencies appear to be extensions of ordinary disease surveillance systems. However, disease surveillance has been limited by patients' rights to confidentiality of personally identifiable medical information. Government has broader authority to obtain information for the purpose of detecting terrorist acts and investigating crimes. Patients' rights to confidentiality have depended importantly on the purpose of collecting information: detecting epidemics, preventing the spread of disease, compiling data on disease trends, program planning and budgeting, or investigating crimes. Today, the methods used to achieve these difference purposes are merging. Moreover, in the absence of an end to terrorism, there is no obvious time limit for surveillance intended to detect terrorism. This presentation examines whether the legal principles governing patient confidentiality, those governing the prevention of disease transmission, or those governing criminal investigations should be the model for modern surveillance systems. Is it possible to protect the public from the risk of disaster-even ordinary disease-without undermining fundamental legal principles on which patient rights are based?

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Bioterrorism, Data/Surveillance

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Human Rights and Ethics in Public Health

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA