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Expert Source: Ebola Quarantine

Alice Noble


(617) 893-8073 (cell)

As both a practicing attorney and as a legal educator, Noble’s career has been focused on issues of health law and policy. She is an expert on the Affordable Care Act and co-author Health Care Reform: Law and Practice (M. Chirba, A. Noble, M. Maddigan; Lexis/Matthew Bender 2013), which provides a section by section analysis of statutory and regulatory compliance obligations under the Affordable Care Act. She holds a law degree from Villanova University School of Law and a master of public health degree from Harvard School of Public Health. Noble was a fellow in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Researcher at The American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics.Courses taught include Genetics, Law, and Social Policy, Health Law and Ethics, Health Law and Policy, Advanced Legal Writing, Law and Public Health, Managed Care Law and Regulation, among others. She has a number of peer-reviewed publications on topics such as genetic technology, law and ethics; medical malpractice; managed care; and hospital law. She is a contributor to the Health Affairs Blog and Health Law Professors Blog. Noble has been an invited speaker on various matters, including national health care reform. 


She fought the state of New Jersey over being quarantined for Ebola and now Kaci Hickox is fighting her home state of Maine over the same issue. The Doctors Without Borders nurse said she is not going to be bullied by politicians to stay in her home for 21-days, as Maine authorities expect her to do, because it’s a violation of her rights. A Boston College legal expert says Hickox may have a point.

“To commit someone to quarantine constitutes a deprivation of their liberties under the Constitution and there are certain due process protections that apply,” says Boston College Law School faculty member Alice Noble, J.D., M.P.H., an expert on health law and policy. “The states do have the right to remove individuals who pose a risk from the public, but that policy should be designed to protect the due process rights of the individual.  Depending on how long the confinement is, the individual may be entitled to a hearing and a number of additional due process protections. Questions like how significant the threat to the public is and whether the level of confinement is appropriate given that risk are all questions that should enter into the exercise of the state's power. Given the discrepancy between the federal CDC guidelines and certain states, universal agreement on how to draw these lines is absent.”

Hickox recently returned from Sierra Leone and was quarantined in New Jersey for three days but after she threatened a lawsuit, she was allowed to return to her home state of Maine.

“Some news reports note that Maine officials may convene a hearing if the nurse does not comply voluntarily. Some issues that would be considered at a hearing would include whether she imposes a substantial risk to others if not confined; and whether there are less restrictive alternatives to home confinement given that level of risk. Due process requires an opportunity for the individual to challenge the requirement and to basically defend her position,” says Noble. “Given the difference of opinion by state and federal authorities over this issue, it seems to me there is certainly some question as to whether requiring the individual to be confined to her home when she’s not symptomatic and has already tested negative for Ebola, whether that’s reasonable."

Media Note:
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Sean Hennessey
Associate Director
Office of News and Public Affairs
Boston College

(617) 552-3630 (office)
(617) 943-4323 (cell)