What is the main point of the article "What Does Social Justice Require For The Public’s Health? Public Health Ethics And Policy Imperatives" by Lawrence O. Gostin and Madison Powers? What...

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Kathryn Draney | Student, College Senior | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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The article begins by identifying the major ongoing controversies in the field: the legitimate scope of public health, the balance between public health and civil liberties, and the appropriate roles of the federal government and the states. The authors suggest that the solution to problems in the realm of public health lie in "social justice", or: "Fair disbursement of common advantages and the sharing of common burdens". (1054)

By finding areas of disadvantage in order to improve them, "justice" may be attained. The authors suggest an interventionist approach, as they believe that the lack of "care" about public health is due to a lack of funding. By creating a Trust Fund for Public Health, the government will be able to allocate its resources to those in need nationwide. Also, the authors believe that states should make healthy choices easier choices, e.g. prioritize the locations of supermarkets over the locations of fast food restaurants, etc.

The article claims that socioeconomic fairness is important to public health because people are held responsible for their own ability to live healthy lives. Since our country celebrates the affluent instead of redistributing the wealth, rich people are healthy people and impoverished people are left to their own devices.

The authors also note that health involves not only traditional "illnesses" but also underlying roots of illness such as poverty, obesity, environment, and lifestyle. Due to the lack of fairness, or "justice", the authors claim that government action must address the causes of ill health, especially for the disadvantaged.

One of the controversies that the article recognizes as being a threat to public health is government involvement, or, the improper use of government involvement. They write that "policymakers, therefore, should modernize antiquated public health laws to provide adequate power to reduce major risks to the population but ensure that government power is exercised proportionately and fairly." (1055) The writers recognize the concern of government involvement in the private lives of citizens, but also note that the resources available through the government are too vital for public health to abandon. In order to maintain a fair, non-monopolized government intervention the article suggests that the responsibility of keeping the public healthy must be shared between the federal, state, and local governments, as each branch has specialized areas of knowledge and areas of resources pertaining to the health of the people in our country.

The article is concluded by a sort of thesis which sums up the thoughts of the authors: "a commitment to social justice lies at the heart of public health." (1060)