When Is a Public Health Emergency Really an Emergency?

The governor of Massachussetts recently declared himself possessed of extraordinary powers due to a public health emergency. Dalrymple derides a New England Journal of Medicine article on the source of the supposed emergency: opioid overdoses…

Words such as “public health emergency” cannot be defined so narrowly that there is a clear and unequivocal dividing line between an emergency and a non-emergency. We cannot demand of words more accuracy than they can provide, which is why human judgment will always be necessary. In my opinion, however, the governor’s judgment was wrong in this case. If this was a public health emergency, then a great deal of what goes on is a public health emergency and we are on the slippery slope to a purely administrative state.

Needless to say, the authors did not mention the possibility that there was a categorical difference between a viral epidemic and an increase of deaths caused by irresponsible human conduct, whether of doctors or of patients.

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