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Ethics in Public Health Policies

Most professionals execute their professional duties under the guidance of ethical standards. Businesspersons and other professionals apply ethical standards to determine the right cause of action. There are certain business ethical considerations that must be upheld in business dealings. For instance, business ethics requires that every transaction must be fair, above board and that human rights must be respected. Ethics plays an integral role in the formulation and implementation of health policies. The paper that follows will discuss the various factors that must be considered in the formulation and implementation of ethics in public health policies.

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According to the Public Health Leadership Society (PHLS), the practitioners that are registered with the society are bound by the code of ethics, which is contains some key principles of the ethical practice in the public health sector. The established code reiterates the principles prescribed by the World Health Organization (Ruger, 2008). One fact that stands out from the entire code of ethics is that people are interdependent. Consequently, practitioners in the public health sector endeavor to reinforce the understanding that the health of an individual is directly linked to his or her life in the community where the individual lives.

The PHLS has proposed some proposed a number of principles of ethical practice. This entails the fact that public health must address the main causes of illnesses and disease and take up necessary steps to prevent the development of adverse health conditions. Secondly, public health must strive to ensure that the methods used to meet the community health’s goals respect the rights of the individuals involved. Thirdly, the community members must be afforded an opportunity to contribute their input during the formulation of public health policies that will affect their lives. Fifthly, the social and physical environment must not suffer as the result of the implementation of any public health program. These are merely examples of a raft of measures or principles that are used by the PHLS to ensure that the health organization registered under the society functions in an ethical way.

Unfortunately, not all health organizations in the US are registered with the PHLS. Some might have principles and policies that break some or all of the ethical standards set by the society (Ruger, 2008). Aside from that, some health practitioners might end up negating the effect and provisions of ethical theories such that the theories are of no effect in their practices. The distributive justice, utilitarianism, and paternalism theories are some of the most important ethical theories and are widely used in public health.

Despite the fact that the three theories are important in the field of public health, there have been some instances in the recent past where these ethical theories proved to be consistent and inconsistent with public health practice. Medical paternalism has been used by medical practitioners to counter the patient autonomy clause that expressly states that the patient had the right to make decisions about their health (Buchanan, 2008). When a doctor feels that the patient is not in his or her correct frame of mind, he can temporarily violate the patient’s autonomy and enter a weak paternalism claim and administer the therapy or medication needed. In some instances, there might be no medication. It might be as trivial as denying the patient access to pain killer pills or as serious as declining a euthanasia request from a mentally unstable patient.

The distributive justice theory proposes that the gains and the burdens of the healthcare system should be equally distributed to all members of the community. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In the US, patients under privately funded medical schemes are afforded better quality treatment compared to those in government funded health plans like Medicaid (Buchanan, 2008). According to this principle, all Americans deserves quality healthcare. However, this is not usually the case.

Public health practices have also been found to work in line with the utilitarianism theory. According to this theory, the alternative chosen or the course of action embarked on is meant to produce the greatest good or benefit to the largest number of people. In most cases, public health officials raid premises that are found selling food that has not been inspected (Buchanan, 2008). They also raid and arrest people found to flout public health regulations. All these aims at safeguarding the interest of the public and by so doing, they protect the public from some imminent harm.

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Ideally, public health goals ought to be met in the least restrictive ways. This means that the goals should be in line with universally acceptable ethical standards. For instance, before implementing any public health policy, the practitioner ought to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are on board (Selgelid, 2009). For this to happen, every person that is likely to be affected by the public health policy needs to be made aware right from the formulation state. By so doing, this will ensure that the ethical principle of all inclusiveness is upheld. However, not every person can be consulted over all public health matters. In such instances, coercive social distancing might be ideal. This approach is favored especially in instances where a gaining public consensus might be impossible.


Buchanan, D. (2008). Autonomy, Paternalism, and Justice: Ethical Priorities in Public Health. American Journal of Public Health, 98(1), 15-21.

Ruger, J. (2008). Ethics in American Health 1: Ethical Approaches to Health Policy. American Journal of Public Health, 98(10), 1751-1756.

Selgelid, M. J. (2009). A Moderate Pluralist Approach to Public Health Policy and Ethics. Public Health Ethics, 2(2), 195-205.

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