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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International

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Publication Date

Summer 2009


Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law




Current discussions of pandemic influenza and emergency preparedness would do well to heed the lessons of US Airways flight 1549, which landed in the Hudson River in January 2009. This article examines what past emergencies teach us about how to prevent or control epidemics and argues that it is time for a return to the rule of law in pandemic preparedness. The most important resource in emergency preparedness is a healthy, resilient population, which depends importantly on sustainable systems of medical care and public health. Preparedness thus requires more money than law. After September 11, 2001, however, federal emergency preparedness policies shifted much of their focus from public health to national security, bioterrorism and personal responsibility. A critique of this approach concludes that it is ineffective, frightening the public without providing the resources that people need to protect themselves. Laws embodying this approach can distort the rule of law more generally. Responding to bioterrorism and pandemics is essentially the same as responding to naturally occurring disease outbreaks, so special laws intended for bioterrorism inevitably apply to ordinary public health problems. With renewed attention to health system reform, the country has an opportunity for a fresh approach to pandemic preparedness - one that is governed by the same principles that guide a more enlightened overall health policy.

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