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Public Health Ethics

  1. Marcel Verweij and,
  2. Angus Dawson

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee699

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Verweij and, M. and Dawson, A. 2013. Public Health Ethics. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


In the first decades of its development, bioethics has mainly focused on ethical issues in clinical medicine and medical technology (see Bioethics). Since the end of the twentieth century, however, more and more attention has been given to moral and legal issues in public health. The field of public health encompasses a broad range of health problems and societal responses that inevitably raise ethical questions. Infectious disease control, mass screening, and health promotion have the potential to reduce the burden of disease within populations, but they can also be in tension with other values such as liberty or individual well-being, or raise questions about justice in relation to priority setting. However, public health ethics is not just about a new set of topics, but can also be thought of as a distinctive approach to biomedical ethics for at least three reasons. First, public health interventions are generally aimed at populations rather than individuals, and therefore cannot easily be tailored to individual choice. Hence, whereas “autonomy” and “informed consent” are seen as core elements of clinical bioethics, their role in public health ethics is less clear (see Autonomy; Informed Consent).


  • bioethics;
  • egalitarianism;
  • health;
  • human rights;
  • legal and political;
  • liberalism;
  • practical (applied) ethics