Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm realizing everything I believe politically breaks down at Typhoid Mary

Your morbid friend has been reading a good book on Typhoid Mary. If you're not familiar with what happened to her, she infected 22 people in various households killing one, was quarantined by the state for two years, promised never to cook again, was released, started cooking again, infected twenty five more people killing two, then was quarantined for the rest of her life.

Her whole life, she denied that she had the disease.

I'm realizing that I haven't a clue what, had I been there, I would have advocated doing about this highly contagious woman. She seems like Dostoyevsky's proverbial baby getting tortured at the edge of the universe so everyone else can be OK.

Locking her up on an island for the rest of her life doesn't seem like a solution that I should be OK with, but I can't think of anything else that seems like a reasonable solution either.

Comments?

CC

5 comments:

kim said...

You're right, it's a difficult case. As you said, she said she wouldn't cook any more but changed her name and place and hired herself out as a cook again -- so in esssence she made the choice to do what she knew she shouldn't. However, she also knew how to cook and didn't know how else to make a living, and there was no state assistance I assume. So, it depends on whether keeping her confined afterward was a punishment or simply an isolation for the safety of others. How was she treated? Was it a prison or a quarantine?
Doesn't the safety of the community trump the freedom of an individual when that individual has shown that she will not take care of the safety of the community? (Community first is green meme and individual first is orange meme. Have I mentioned Spiral Dynamics?)

Anonymous said...

Mary was also a difficult case at the time. Civil libertarians vigorously defended her right to live as she wished. And they had some legal successes.

Mary, an uneducated and not too bright woman, truly believed she could not carry typhoid because she there was no evidence she ever had it. And medicine couldn't decide.

So health officials had to rely upon circumstantial evidence - typhoid broke out where she worked.

Her confinements were not harsh. It was comfortable. But she wanted to live her own life and could not. She also felt the confinement was a mark of shame, she had high moral values.

Chalicechick said...

According to what I'm reading, it wasn't that science couldn't decide, it was that it would go into remission sometimes. (Like four tests out of fifty one year came out clean.)

CC

ogre said...

Troubling, but... easy, for me.

It's on the same spectrum as your right to swing your fist stops short of my nose.

It's the same question that the law answers when it treats someone who has HIV knowingly exposing others to infection without warning them of the risk.

It's not someone's right to put others lives at risk. It doesn't matter if she (or he) believes it. To my mind, justice was done. She was permitted to be free and live her life... despite the evidence that she was a carrier... on the condition that she not cook, putting others at risk.

The fact that it's what she knew how to do is certainly an issue. But it doesn't justify her disguising her identity, violating her promise, and putting others at risk--killing some of them.

I see no vast distinction between her and a sex offender who won't do it again... and does.

Assault with a deadly microbe is still assault with a deadly weapon.

PG said...

I can see the civil libertarian argument for not locking her up, but there should be a strong civil libertarian argument against allowing her to deceive others without punishment. Even libertarians generally think that government should intervene to prevent fraud, particularly when it will lead to fatalities. If Typhoid Mary wished to go on her way, or even if she could find people willing to take the risk (I imagine the market would force her to work quite cheaply), that's one thing. Not disclosing who she was is another.