Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:http://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12105/6895
Towards public health ethics
Public Health Rev. 2015 May 29;36:3.
Health is a value, both objective and subjective, yet it is not the only value that contributes to the well-being of persons. In public health, there are different connotations of the term "public" relevant from an ethical perspective: population, government action, and collective action of the community. Ethics seeks to provide a basis for and justify moral decisions and actions. Ethics asks, why should I do it?, and the reply consists of an argument. The type of ethics that underpins applied ethics in general, and bioethics in particular, is civic ethics, a philosophical reflection on the criteria that enable the peaceful coexistence of citizens with different morals. Progress means emancipation as well as an increase of autonomy. However, more is not always better, and now we know that no health intervention, including a public health intervention, is risk-free. The false belief that undergoing a prevention intervention is always better than doing nothing explains, at least in part, that in contrast to bioethics, only recently have the ethical implications in public health practice been given the attention they deserve. Positive externalities in third parties, such as in vaccination programmes or policies to prevent harm to passive smokers, can occasionally justify the potential risks of a public health intervention. It is in such situations where a conflict might arise between the goal of improving the health of the population and the respect for the rights and freedoms of the individual that characterizes the dilemmas in public health ethics. In conclusion, it is necessary to have a public health ethics framework and a professional code of ethics applied to public health. The training of public health professionals in ethics is essential to ensure that they feel more confident when it comes to addressing the sheer range of ethical conflicts that they frequently face in the performance of their duties.
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