Sunday, June 17, 2007

ACLU Brings Suit Against Arizona for Quarantine of Tuberculosis Patient

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County, Ariz., for the conditions in which it is holding a tuberculosis patient in quarantine. The man, Robert Daniels, has a rare and particularly vicious drug-resistant form of tuberculosis.
Daniels was quarantined nine months ago after Maricopa County Public Health officials discovered he had been in public without a respiratory mask. The ACLU is not arguing against the man's quarantine. However, the group takes exceptions to the conditions under which the man is being held.

Daniel J. Pochoda, the director of ACLU of Arizona had this to say about the court action: "Individuals quarantined because of public health risks are held under civil rather than criminal laws. Robert Daniels is a sick patient who has been detained for non-punitive purposes and public health officials are legally and morally obligated to treat him in a humane manner," according to a press release on the ACLU's website.

According to the ACLU the man has been quarantined in the "jail" section of the Maricopa county hospital. Daniels is regularly stripped searched. The man is not allowed to exercise or go outside; his lone trip outdoors during his nine months of confinement occurred while he was shackled.

The ACLU says Daniels is subjected to round the clock lighting, as the lights in his cell are kept on at night. It was just a few weeks ago that Daniel was allowed to shower or make phone calls. Daniels is also prohibited from visits from family or friends and is not allowed to use the Internet or any other mechanism for facilitating social activities.

ACLU attorney Linda Cosme said: "It's psychologically damaging to exist in a vacuum without meaningful activities or opportunities to interact with others. By placing Robert Daniels in these deplorable conditions, the county clearly has no intention of helping him get better. For years, they've been aware of the need to create an adequate quarantine area for extremely ill patients, yet they've chose to ignore the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in Maricopa County in favor of harsh, jail-like conditions for people who are sick and accused of no crimes."

"I'm slowly dying in this room," Daniels said, according to the ACLU. "I didn't realize how serious this was, and I regret that, but nothing justifies the kind of treatment I've received in here. The solitary confinement starts to mess with your head and it has taken a serious toll on my body."
Daniels is a native of Russia; he has claimed that it was a cultural misunderstanding that led him to underestimate the seriousness of his condition. He was not familiar with tuberculosis and claims he did not understate the danger he posed to public health by appearing in public without a respiratory mask.
The ACLU is asking the court to issue a ruling requiring the county to hold Daniels in a hospital ward and treat him like a person with a severe illness, rather than a criminal. The group wants the judge to allow Daniels things like privacy, walking outdoors, computer access, and contact with family and friends.

The ACLU is also asking the court to require Maricopa County to enact policies that will set up quarantine areas for people like Daniels that are the least restrictive as necessary to protect the public health. It is also asking the judge to order the state of Arizona to appropriate funding for quarantining patients with long-term illnesses.

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