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Introduction -Link Before You Watch - link Lectures and Activities Classroom and Applications - Link

Workshop 7:  Lectures & Activities

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Lecture Transcript Two:
Typhoid, Polio, and Diphtheria: Science and Class Issues

Lecturer: Professor Evelynn Hammonds

Photo of Evelynn Hammonds

Professor Hammonds: What conclusions did people come up with about the health department's decision, the issues that her incarceration and isolation raise? Yes?

Ron Morrison: I took the position of one of the health officials, that isolating her, putting her in her own, separate cabin was the right thing to do. I sort of started off feeling bad. And then as I—as you gave me the other information, I said, well, maybe I wasn't too wrong in what they did, for the simple fact—You know, isolating a few individuals for the good of the greater majority seems to be the way, or was the way back then. What we know now, we wouldn't have to do what was done then.

Professor Hammonds: Are you sure about that?

Ron Morrison: In some cases, yes.

Professor Hammonds: Suppose we faced a new disease, and we didn't quite know what was going on, and the only thing we knew was that there were some people out there who were infecting other people. We tried to ask—The public health officials asked them to stop. They don't stop doing whatever it is that causes the disease to be transmitted. What are we going to do with them?

Ron Morrison: Isolate them. I mean, you bring them in, and you isolate them, if need be.

Professor Hammonds: So—but it could happen now. That's the point I was trying to make. It could still happen.

Ron Morrison: Yes. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Professor Hammonds: Other comments? I saw a couple—yes?

Larry David: One of the things that we discussed was, what is the nature of a public health crisis? What determines what crisis is in general? And we bandied that about in our group. And one of the things we noted is that it changes with the time. Previously there hadn't been—It hadn't been perceived to be a crisis in the 1830s and 1840s, '50s, and '60s. While you have the disease, it's not perceived as a crisis. In the progressive era it is, because of the changing mind-set of the public, and especially the middle class.

Professor Hammonds: Well, no, I think outbreaks of disease, especially infectious diseases that cause large numbers of deaths, are always perceived as a crisis. Even today they would be perceived as a crisis.

Larry David: It depends on who is affected. It depends on the segment of the population.

Professor Hammonds: Well, does it depend on who is infected? Let me ask your colleagues to answer that. Does a crisis depend on—calling it a crisis depend on who is infected? Or is it a crisis no matter who is infected? Yes?

Ed Morrison: She was poor; she was Irish; she was Catholic; she was an immigrant; she was a woman—all people who really had no status or perceived position in society at that point in time. I just think she was easy pickings. I think she was victimized.

Professor Hammonds: So you think they were making an example of her?

Ed Morrison: Exactly. An example. And then, to the extent that that example even wasn't established to be looked upon as a precedent later—I mean, I just feel it was an awful injustice.

Professor Hammonds: Okay. Other opinions? Yes?

Yvonne Powell: And we've had more recent experience with the AIDS crisis. When that first started, they were homosexuals, gay people, drug addicts, throwaways in our society, and in more recent times, obviously African Americans—again, not the most prominent group of people that we address. So I agree. I think it's those who are the most vulnerable, who are the least, that oftentimes are susceptible to be mistreated when a crisis comes, and their liberty taken away.

Professor Hammonds: Does anybody else want to argue that there were good reasons for isolating Mary, that it makes sense? Yes?

Eugenia Rolla: They really needed to kind of legitimize their position within this kind of new, emerging, progressive time, and so they needed to take a stand. That's not to say what they were doing was correct or just. But from their perspective, from a bureaucratic perspective, in order to kind of say, "Hey, this is what our job is, and we're facing this crisis, and this is what we're doing," I think it was necessary for them to set a precedent to a certain extent

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