CDC's Model State Emergency Health Powers Act Goes Too Far

St. Paul, Minnesota - To combat bioterrorism, federal health officials have proposed that state legislators give state health officials new powers over citizens. The powers proposed in the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act would be broad and sweeping, forcing citizens to submit to physical examinations, tests, quarantine and vaccinations against their will.

Some states, including Minnesota, are already considering enactment in 2002.

Citizens' Council on Health Care (CCHC) is concerned that the proposal would provide intrusive authority for purposes far beyond bioterrorism. According to press accounts, the writing of the Act began well before September 11th - the day of the terrorist attack.

"Unfortunately, the terrorist attack and the public's new awareness of bioterrorism have given public health officials new ammunition to advance their pet projects of health care surveillance and mandatory vaccination," says Twila Brase, president of CCHC.

Of particular concern in the Act are the following provisions:

Broad Definitions

  • A "public health emergency" can be declared not only for bioterrorism attacks, but also for epidemics, pandemic disease or natural disasters.
  • The terms "epidemic disease", "pandemic disease" and "natural disaster" are not defined, leaving public health officials ample room for their own interpretation.
  • There are no limits on the number or types of tests that can be performed on individuals, or on the bodily specimens that can be collected. DNA and genetic testing are not excluded.

Loss of Civil Rights

  • Although due process is allowed, the Act permits state officials to identify and train personnel to serve as "emergency judges" to deal with citizen appeals of forced quarantine and isolation. Such training may be biased.
  • Citizens are required to submit to medical examinations, vaccinations, and quarantine against their will if a public health emergency is declared.
  • Public health officials are given authority to "collect specimens and perform tests on any person" even if they are healthy with no history of exposure to disease.
  • Health care professionals who refuse to provide forced medical examinations or vaccinations can be charged with a misdemeanor.
  • Citizens who refuse to comply can be detained and charged with a misdemeanor.
  • Police officers will be placed under the authority of health department officials.

Medical Privacy Violations

  • Regular ongoing reporting of individual patients and purchase of medication is required. Health care professionals, health care facilities, coroners, medical examiners and pharmacists must provide information (name, date of birth, sex, race, address, name of health care provider) to the state health department if there is the "potential" for bioterrorism, epidemic or pandemic disease. No patient consent is required.
  • Broad access to patient medical records is permitted without patient consent for research related to epidemics and infectious disease, including to unnamed "appropriate federal agencies or authorities." There are no requirements that the individually- identifiable data will be deleted, or not used or shared for other purposes, once the public health emergency order is terminated.

State Control

  • Public health officials can assume control of hospital and clinic operations.
  • State control of communication facilities, food distribution, fuel supply, and real estate is authorized.
  • State rationing of food, fuel, clothing, alcohol, firearms, and other commodities is authorized.

The Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, prepared for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was written by Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., Professor and Director of the Center for Law and the Public's Health at Georgetown University Law Center. It is meant to provide a template for state legislation. A draft version of the Act was released October 23, 2001.