NSW Public Health Bulletin archive

Public health ethics: informing better public health practice

Stacy M. Carter, Ian Kerridge, Peter Sainsbury, Julie K. Letts

NSW Public Health Bulletin 23(6) 101-106 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/NB12066 Published: 28 June 2012

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About the author/s

Stacy M. Carter | Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, The University of Sydney

Ian Kerridge | Department of Haematology, Royal North Shore Hospital, Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, The University of Sydney

Peter Sainsbury | Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, The University of Sydney, Population Health, South Western Sydney and Sydney Local Health Districts

Julie K. Letts | Office of the Chief Health Officer, NSW Ministry of Health

Corresponding author

Stacy M. Carter | stacy.carter@sydney.edu.au

Abstract

Public health ethics has emerged and grown as an independent discipline over the last decade. It involves using ethical theory and empirical analyses to determine and justify the right thing to do in public health. In this paper, we distinguish public health ethics from clinical ethics, research ethics, public health law and politics. We then discuss issues in public health ethics including: how to weigh up the benefits, harms and costs of intervening; how to ensure that public health interventions produce fair outcomes; the potential for public health to undermine or promote the rights of citizens; and the significance of being transparent and inclusive in public health interventions. We conclude that the explicit and systematic consideration of ethical issues will, and should, become central to every public health worker’s daily practice.