Ethics and Social Value Judgments in Public Health
Ng N.Y., and Ruger J.P. Ethics and Social Value Judgments in Public Health. In: Anthony J. Culyer (ed.), Encyclopedia of Health Economics, Vol 1. San Diego: Elsevier; 2014. pp. 287-291.
6 Pages Posted: 21 May 2014
Date Written: 2014
Public health, unlike medicine, is not about doctors treating individual patients. Public health is about population health. It is a collective social effort to promote health and prevent diseases – both communicable and noncommunicable – and disability that involves population surveillance, regulation of determinants of health (such as food safety and sanitation), and the provision of key health services with an emphasis on prevention. Because private actors lack sufficient incentive and ability to undertake population-wide measures, public health is a vital resource for which government is the crucial provider, enabled by its police powers and its ability to regulate, tax, and spend. The exercise of government powers for the health of its population raises ethical issues, such as public welfare, individual autonomy and freedom, privacy and confidentiality, just distribution of benefits and burdens, transparency, and public accountability. These ethical concerns sometimes conflict, pitting values against one another. How they should be balanced will vary on a case-by-case basis. This article dis- cusses justifications for government action in public health, the tension between individual freedom and public health, issues of distributive justice in public health, and ethical guidelines for public health policymaking.
Keywords: public health, ethics, social value, freedom, distributive justice, health policy
JEL Classification: I10, I18, I31
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation