The Model Emergency Health Powers Act
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
The U.S. States have been enacting MEHPA, the Model Emergency Health Powers Act. This is part of the War on Terror being waged by the chiefs of the federal government, who have been urging the State governments to adopt it. MEHPA was written by the Center for Law and Public Health, funded by the Centers for Disease Control.
If a medical emergency is declared, under MEHPA the state authorities would have the power to order all residents in the State to be vaccinated. Refusal would be a crime. An argument in favor of this is that if a person catches a communicable disease, it is not just his life that is in danger, but that person is a danger to many others. Vaccination works to control disease only if almost everyone does it.
The counter-argument is that some vaccines may themselves be dangerous or only incompletely tested. Smallpox vaccines can cause bad side-effects, with a small probability of death. People with allergies and other vulnerabilities could be coerced into vaccination. State officials would be exempt from liability.
If there is a bio-terror attack, the state of emergency authorized by MEHPA goes far beyond already-existing powers. The governor's power would continue after the emergency is over. The State legislatures would not be able to review the declaration for 60 days, and after that, they would need a 2/3 majority to end the emergency. It seems an excessive grant of power to limit the legislature this way.
Under MEHPA, people could be forcibly quarantined. The State could abuse this power to put away protesters and political opposition. State health personae would have the power to seize, confiscate, or destroy private property without compensation. They could take food, firearms, and fuel. If someone has stockpiled food for emergency, it could be taken away and used to feed others, such as government officials.
MEHPA also has effects if there is no medical emergency. Pharmacists would have to report unusual patterns of a person's drug purchases along with personal information. This seems to go well beyond what is warranted for emergencies. It seems to sneak in an expansion of the federal government's war on drugs.
As a further intrusion into personal privacy, any person with a "legitimate need" for medical records could require them to be provided. Information obtained by health care providers would be reported to public health agencies.
This MEHPA law follows a familiar pattern. There exists some real problem, in this case the danger of a bio-terrorist attack. Legislation is then drafted to deal with problem. The law has some reasonable features, such as requiring the public to be vaccinated and quarantined. But these provisions are subject to abuse. Moreover, the legislation also includes additional provisions that go beyond the danger and intrudes into the privacy and liberty of the people.
Because of these dangerous side effects, it seems to me that as currently drafted, MEHPA does more harm than good. Unfortunately, many States have already adopted it, and there is political pressure on others to do so. Maybe if the public is sufficiently informed, there will be counter pressure to eliminate the sections that violate our liberty and constitutional rights.
For further information, see the following web sites:
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2003 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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