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.
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,
Gostin LO. Public Health Law in a New CenturyPart III: Public Health Regulation: A Systematic Evaluation. JAMA. 2000;283(23):3118-3122. doi:10.1001/jama.283.23.3118