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Keywords:

  • Bioethics and social justice;
  • Public health and bioethics;
  • Individualism and bioethics;
  • New York State, health disparities in;
  • Infant mortality among African-Americans

Abstract: In this paper we examine the central commitments of bioethical enquiry and reasoning from a public health perspective. We argue that a core element of American national culture is individualism, which resonates in scholarly and popular debates. Our contention is that the habitus of bioethical debate is in large measure animated by an overriding concern with the individual, and the resulting social practice of the community has been to downplay the importance and legitimacy of group-level health care dilemmas. This paper calls for re-focusing of bioethics by employing a public health perspective, which would include a population focus, evidence-based research topics, and engagement of the ethical dilemmas that arise from decisions concerning prevention. Racial and ethnic health disparities throughout the life span of a population in central New York State are used to illustrate the need for a public health focus in bioethics.