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Letter to the New York State Department of Health

On Proposed Regulations That Threaten Human Rights, Bodily Autonomy, Health, & Social Bonds

“‘I think that New York is the new model for the new concentration camp, where the camp has been built by the inmates themselves, and the inmates are the guards, and they have this pride in this thing they’ve built. They’ve built their own prison. And so they exist in a state of schizophrenia where they are both guards and prisoners, and as a result, they no longer have, having been lobotomized, the capacity to leave the prison they’ve made or to even see it as a prison.’”

—English tree expert quoted by Andre Gregory, My Dinner with Andre

I am not a New Yorker, but that doesn’t matter. I am a human being, and I am a defender of human rights, and Dr. Mary Bassett, it appears you are, too, having previously served as director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health & Human Rights and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health & Human Rights at Harvard.

And so I speak to you, Katherine Ceroalo, and your fellow decision-makers as defenders of individual rights, as New Yorkers, and as human beings. I ask that you shed any political biases, social pressures, preconceptions, cognitive biases, and coercive influences—whether financial, pharmaceutical, institutional, media, or otherwise—as you consider the following amendments and additions:

Before you rubber-stamp these changes into effect, please understand that you hold the lives of individual human beings in your hands, and you will be personally responsible for any physical, psychological, and emotional damage that comes to people because of your decisions.

The proposed amendment of Part 2, Section 405.3 and addition of Section 58-1.14 to Title 10 NYCRR (Investigation of Disease; Isolation and Quarantine) include treacherously broad redefinitions of terms such as “case” and “suspected case”:

(b) [A case is defined as] Case shall mean a person who has been diagnosed [as likely to have] as having a particular disease or condition. The diagnosis may be based [solely] on clinical judgment, signs and symptoms combined with known exposure based on the best available evidence of transmissibility to a case or suspected case, [solely] and/or on laboratory evidence, [or on both criteria] as applicable.

(c) [A suspected case is defined as] Suspected case shall mean a person who has been [diagnosed] determined as [likely to have] possibly having a particular disease or condition. [The suspected diagnosis] A suspected case may be based [solely] on signs and symptoms, signs and symptoms combined with known exposure based on the best available evidence of transmissibility to a case or suspected case, [or solely] and/or on laboratory evidence, [or on both criteria] as applicable. The term “suspected case” shall include persons under investigation, consistent with any guidance that the Commissioner of Health may issue with respect to a particular disease.”

Here’s a little tip: Whenever you’re reviewing legislation, always consider that you could one day be on the receiving end of the very policies you are approving.

Altering the definitions of “case” and “suspected case” such that they can be determined based solely on an authority’s judgment opens the floodgates for abuses and politically motivated persecutions the likes of which have historically been documented in totalitarian regimes to the tune of hundreds of millions of incarcerations and deaths. Believe me, you do not want to be responsible for flinging open that Pandora’s box.

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