Looking ahead: addressing ethical challenges in public health practice

J Law Med Ethics. Winter 2007;35(4):657-67, 513. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2007.00188.x.


Ethical challenges in public health can have a significant impact on the health of communities if they impede efficiencies and best practices. Competing needs for resources and a plurality of values can challenge public health policymakers and practitioners to make fair and effective decisions for their communities. In this paper, the authors offer an analytic framework designed to assist policymakers and practitioners in managing the ethical tensions they face in daily practice. Their framework is built upon the following set of six considerations: determining population-level utility of the proposed action; demonstrating evidence of need and effectiveness of actions; establishing fairness of goals and proposed implementation strategies; ensuring accountability; and, assessing expected efficiencies and costs associated with the proposed action. Together, these considerations create a structured guide to assist decision-makers in identifying potential ethical challenges and in assessing the moral considerations that underlie public health practice - and possibly even, if the conditions are met, reduce the creation of ethical tension. Although the authors'empirical experiences provide the basis for the framework advanced here, their approach remains to be tested and evaluated by public health practitioners.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bioethics / trends*
  • Decision Making
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Humans
  • Professional Autonomy
  • Public Health Practice / ethics*
  • Public Health* / ethics
  • Public Health* / trends
  • Resource Allocation / ethics
  • Social Justice*