Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 197–205 | Cite as

Should Persons Detained During Public Health Crises Receive Compensation?

  • Søren HolmEmail author


One of the ways in which public health officials control outbreaks of epidemic disease is by attempting to control the situations in which the infectious agent can spread. This may include isolation of infected persons, quarantine of persons who may be infected and detention of persons who are present in or have entered premises where infected persons are being treated. Most who have analysed such measures think that the restrictions in liberty they entail and the detriments in welfare they impose can be justified and this paper proceeds from the assumption that detention measures are justifiable in some circumstances. Such measures are often implemented without any compensation being given to the persons who are detained. This raises the question: What do we owe to those whose liberty is justifiably restricted (e.g. through isolation, quarantine or detention) as a public health measure during a public health emergency? More specifically, do we owe them compensation for any losses they experience? The paper falls in four main sections. The first section provides examples of the current regulatory state of affairs from the US, Canada and WHO. The second section lays out the liberal, welfarist and pragmatic arguments for providing compensation. The third section discusses the arguments against compensation and the fourth and final section provides the conclusion. It is argued that the arguments for providing compensation clearly outweigh the counterarguments and that the default public policy therefore should be that compensation is provided.


Compensation Isolation Justice Public health Quarantine 



The author is supported by the ESRC Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics and the Cardiff Institute of Society, Health and Ethics.

I thank the participants at the Limiting Liberty in Contexts of Contagion workshop held at Oxford University, July 2007 for their helpful comments on a preliminary version of this paper. I also thank three anonymous referees for very helpful comments.

Competing interests

None declared


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cardiff Law SchoolCardiffUK
  2. 2.Section for Medical EthicsUniversity of OsloOsloNorway

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