Emergent Quarantine and Civil Disobedience under Extreme Circumstance: A Case Study of the Heping Hospital Event in 2003





Published date: 

December, 2006


Yu-Feng Wong
Su-Fen You


On April 24th 2003, Taipei Municipal Heping Hospital, where the first Taiwanese SARS (serious acute respiration syndrome) hospital infection occurred, was shut down abruptly to halt the outbreak of SARS infections in Taiwan. Being compelled to work and without necessary protection against SARS, some hospital staff broke the quarantine order by getting through the blockade. Based on the right to life, this research investigates the social construction of the medical professionals’ disobedience, with the intention of evaluating the operation of the state’s emergency health powers.

In the light of critical debates on civil disobedience together with some interview data about those directly involved in the Heping case, we explore the reasons, the right to life mainly, for the healthcare workers’ acting in self-defense, with a concern about the lack of an adequate quarantining policy to protect those quarantined insiders. The social right meanings of “occupational health and safety” and “public health” are addressed in an attempt to explore the “conflict” between them in the case under consideration. The discussion also draws upon John Rawls’s (1971) argument on the justification for civil disobedience, leading to supplementing Rawls’ brief assertion relating to the so-called “extreme conditions”.

We argue that Taiwanese public health policy-making represents a dictatorial regime relying on experts, in that the values of front-line medical workers and hospitalized patients are by and large excluded in the formation of the nation's epidemic prevention and control measures. Thus, the effects of the state's regulation have detracted significantly from the resistance of the medical professionals in the Heping case.