The old R&R is not a smoke-belching railroad of the past. It’s the oh-so-American battle between citizens’ rights and responsibilities.
Most Americans know that their right to free speech ends at shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater that is not on fire.
Is shouting “Ebola!” where there is none the new public menace? Or does the danger lie in individuals who may threaten the larger population by refusing to lay low for 21 days—the virus’ incubation period—after they have treated infected patients?
A nurse who treated Ebola patients and who is now in Maine has moved those questions to the forefront of a national debate sparked by a handful of Ebola cases in the U.S. She defied a state-ordered quarantine by going on a bike ride.
Just nine people diagnosed with Ebola have been treated in the U.S., including a man from Liberia who died, two nurses who treated him in Dallas, Texas, who recovered, and a doctor who treated patients in East Africa who is undergoing treatment in New York.
While one of the nurses was not experiencing symptoms, she flew on a domestic airline. Should she have flown? No one else she came into contact with while traveling became infected, but it would have made everyone else feel safer if she had not traveled until the incubation period was over.
In the midst of this, it’s fair to ask ourselves what constitutes civic heroism and what is self-centered heedlessness for the concerns and safety of others?
It’s now a legal question about when our rights to move about and to associate with whom we please may be abridged. The president, the governor and the U.S. Secretary of Defense have all come up with different answers.
Until we have national agreement and until public knowledge about Ebola is more widespread, individuals who have come into close contact with patients in whom the virus is active should exercise personal responsibility and err on the side of caution.