Public Health Law and Ethics – 6633
Modern public health focuses on the health of populations. Efforts to cope with infectious disease, natural disasters, and even deliberately created health threats involve all levels of government, from local to national. Because infectious diseases such as HIV and SARS obey no national borders and massive disasters such as drought and tsunamis have global impact, public health law is increasingly international. The legal, ethical, and scientific issues are immense. This course is an intensive and interdisciplinary examination of a wide range of issues in public health law and ethics, including prevention strategies, emergency preparedness and response, and averting and coping with bioterrorism.
When emergencies such as Hurricane Katrina or a highly pathogenic influenza epidemic strike, the legal, ethical, and public health issues posed are wide-ranging. Questions arise of suspending normal legal arrangements in favor of emergency powers and curtailing individual liberty. Movies such as “Contagion” and nonfiction books such as Five Days at Memorial (Sheri Fink’s account of alleged mercy killings at a flooded hospital during Hurricane Katrina) vividly depict the human lives at stake and the profound challenge to the rule of law. Bioterrorism incidents, such as the anthrax letters mailed in 2011, raise further issues at the border of public health, national security, and law enforcement. Examining how law, ethics, and public health anticipate, handle, and resolve issues of prevention, emergencies, and bioterrorism forces us to take a deep look at constitutional, administrative, and international law; ethics and politics; and the science of public health, including risk analysis and epidemiology.
Students will actively debate the issues posed by each week’s reading and other material. We will welcome experts in public health as guest speakers to ground our discussion in real cases and policy challenges.