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Opening Arguments

Murder by infection

The first government-ordered quarantine since 1963 -- what would it feel like to be locked up just for being sick? If you knew it was coming, would you do as much as you could in the meantime?

Health officials said the man had been advised not to fly and knew he could expose others when he boarded the jets. He had a supply of masks to wear for the protection of other passengers, but it is not clear whether he donned them, Cetron said.

The man told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that doctors did not order him not to fly and only suggested he put off his long-planned wedding. He knew he had a form of tuberculosis and that it was resistant to commonly used drugs, but he did not realize until he was already in Europe that it could be so dangerous, he said.

"We headed off to Greece thinking everything's fine," he told the newspaper. The newspaper did not identify him at his request, because of the stigma attached to his diagnosis.

No, my question is not about whether his civil liberties have been violated. Since it's pretty clear he knew exactly what risk he posed, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, if any of those people die, should he be charged with murder?

Posted in: Current Affairs


Thu, 05/31/2007 - 5:23am

Reckless homicide or involuntary manslaughter maybe. I don't see any actual intent to cause harm, so no murder. But he was carrying an inherently dangerous instrumentality, knew or should have known that it was dangerous, and was indifferent as to its effect on others. So, I think a plausible case could be made. (Disclosure: I don't practice any criminal law, so I'm just opining as an average citizen here.)

I wonder where you'd draw the line. Should you be liable for civil damages if you go out and about with a cold, knowing but not caring that you could infect others, and do in fact infect others?

Leo Morris
Thu, 05/31/2007 - 6:05am

I don't know -- but probably somewhere closer to an untreatable, fatal disease than a nuisance. I think this is an interesting question because of the possibility of a deadly flu pandemic. I don't think we've thought through all the civil liberties vs. protecting the public issues that would bring up.

tim zank
Thu, 05/31/2007 - 11:48am

Leo sez, ". I don't think we've thought through all the civil liberties vs. protecting the public issues that would bring up."

Well, if we were to apply the same principles as used in the recent smoking ban, my guess is this poor guy gets the electric chair. No wait, that'll give off 2nd hand smoke too, maybe lethal injection though!

brian stouder
Thu, 05/31/2007 - 8:03pm

The guy's new father-in-law works for ......(wait for it) the Centers for Disease Control; and the father-in-law specializes in TB outbreaks.

At a minimum, this idiot has gotten off on the wrong foot with his new extended family. Presumeably, his new wife is either entirely oblivious tot he surrounding world, or else deeply into rebellion against her dad

Steven T.
Sat, 06/02/2007 - 10:24am

We may not have "thought it through," but if or when we are assaulted by some airborne plague-level pandemic, I'd suggest compliance with the policy of the government-sanctioned health services.

In such a widespread "worst case," there won't be much time or resources to detain, isolate or argue excuses with fatally infectious scofflaws. They're most likely to be perceived like looters in time of disaster.

George Dunbar
Wed, 06/06/2007 - 6:41am

Re: murder charge

Well, of course "those people" will die! Don't we all?