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Health Law and Ethics
June 21, 2000

Public Health Law in a New CenturyPart III: Public Health Regulation: A Systematic Evaluation

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: Georgetown/Johns Hopkins University Program in Law and Public Health, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Md.

 

Health Law and Ethics Section Editors: Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, LLD, the Georgetown/Johns Hopkins University Program in Law and Public Health, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Md; Helene M. Cole, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2000;283(23):3118-3122. doi:10.1001/jama.283.23.3118
Abstract

Public health interventions need justification because they intrude on individual rights and incur economic costs. Coercive interventions can be justified in only 3 cases: to avert a risk of serious harm to other persons, to protect the welfare of incompetent persons, and, most controversially, to prevent a risk to the person himself/herself.

This article proposes a systematic evaluation of public health regulation. The article recommends that public health authorities should bear the burden of justification and, therefore, should demonstrate (1) a significant risk based on scientific evidence; (2) the intervention's effectiveness by showing a reasonable fit between means and ends; (3) that economic costs are reasonable; (4) that human rights burdens are reasonable; and (5) that benefits, costs, and burdens are fairly distributed.

The 3 articles in this series have sought to provide a fuller understanding of the varied ways in which law can advance the public's health. Public health law should be seen broadly as the government's power and responsibility to ensure the conditions for the population's health. As such, public health law has transcending importance in how we think about government, politics, and policy.

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