‘The Act concerning the Isolation of Persons with Leprosy’

When ‘The Act concerning the Isolation of Persons with Leprosy and their Hospitalisation in Public Nursing and Curative Facilities etc.’ was passed in 1885, it was the second act concerning leprosy, but the first act to applied to all citizens. Legislation to limit the spread of the disease was implemented in two stages. ‘The Act on Financial Aid for Persons with Leprosy Living in Poverty etc.’ from 1877 only applied to the most needy, who could not provide for themselves. The act stipulated that those with leprosy could no longer take advantage of a social system whereby the poor lived with others in their area for varying periods of time, but had to be admitted to a hospital. This legislation was met with little opposition.

However, the second leprosy act from 1885 did spark debate. This act was the first Norwegian act to allow for the of use of force against the chronically ill, and it applied in principle to everyone. The act permitted forced hospitalisation, but only in cases where it was deemed necessary to prevent transmission. Those with leprosy could in principle remain living at home on the condition that they lived ‘in satisfactory isolation from their family and surroundings’. Local health commission were responsible for monitoring this, in consultation with ‘The Chief Medical Officer for Leprosy’. The latter also carried out inspection rounds to those living at home.

The law was not supposed to separate spouses that wanted to live together, but those with leprosy were often ordered to live in isolation in a room on their own. If it was discovered that the order was not being followed, the person was required to admit themself to hospital. If necessary, the police were to assist with hospitalisation.

The legislation became a model for similar laws in many other countries, but isolation was often implemented in a far stricter fashion than in Norway. Despite the legislation being somewhat liberal compared to subsequent legislation in other countries, it still elicited strong reactions among physicians and others, who believed that it violated the rights of the individual.

First part of the Leprosy Act of 1885. www.nb.no.
The first part of the law.
From Norwegian Legal Gazette No. 14 1885. www.nb.no.

Act concerning the Isolation of Persons with Leprosy and their Hospitalisation in Public Nursing and Curative Facilities etc.

We Oscar, King by God’s grace of Norway and Sweden, King of the Wends and Goths

Hereby make known: That We have been presented with the now assembled Storting’s Decision of the 25th of April this year, which reads as follows:

Section 1. People diagnosed with leprosy shall not be boarded out with local farmers.

Section 2. Persons with leprosy who are in receipt of poor relief shall, insofar as this is not temporary or limited to a small part of their subsistence (…) shall be placed in public nursing or curative institutions. When such poor people are not placed in the above-mentioned institutions, they shall either be placed in special residential facilities or be cared for in such manner as the Health Commission finds satisfactory.

In the event of a dispute about whether the poor relief is only temporary, or whether it only constitutes a small part of the subsistence of the person with leprosy, the matter shall be decided with final effect by the County Governor.

When providing for persons with leprosy, the Poor Commission should take into consideration that spouses who wish to remain together, should not be separated. The decision of the Poor Commission is nonetheless valid even when it entails such separation, if, after hearing the opinions of the parish pastor and the district physician, it is approved by the County Governor.

Section 3. The Health Commission may also order other people diagnosed with leprosy to live in satisfactory isolation from their family and surroundings, such, however, that this does not apply to spouses’ contact with each other. If, in the Commission’s view, repeated orders are not complied with, the person in question shall be obliged to accept admission to a public nursing or curative institution. If such admission leads to the separation of spouses, the Health Commission’s decision shall be subject to the approval of the County Governor, after the parish pastor has stated his opinion.

Section 4. The costs of placing people with leprosy in public nursing or curative institutions pursuant to Section 3 shall be covered by the county or urban municipality in question, such, however, that the costs of readmission of a person with leprosy who has left such an institution without permission from its director, shall be covered by the person with leprosy him/herself, provided that he/she has the required means.

Section 5. Under this Act, transport to the institution in question shall, if necessary, be carried out by the police.

Section 6. Rooms, clothing, bed linen and the like that have been used by any person with leprosy must not be used or handed over to others until they have been cleaned in accordance with the requirements of the local Health Commission. Breaches of this provision shall be prosecuted by the police and punished with fines to be paid to the municipal treasury.

Section 7. Physicians undertaking journeys occasioned by this Act shall be entitled to a travel and subsistence allowance. The travel allowance shall be paid by the State, while the subsistence allowance shall be covered by the county or municipality in question.

Section 8. The Act relating to Provision for Poor People with Leprosy etc. of 26th of May 1877 is hereby repealed.


We have adopted and confirmed this decision as law under our hand and the seal of the realm.

Rosendal Castle, 6th June 1885



(L. S.)


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O Richter                                                       Lehmann

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