Populations, Public Health, and the Law

Populations, Public Health, and the Law

Populations, Public Health, and the Law

Populations, Public Health, and the Law


Law plays a crucial role in protecting the health of populations. Whether the public health threat is bioterrorism, pandemic influenza, obesity, or lung cancer, law is an essential tool for addressing the problem. Yet for many decades, courts and lawyers have frequently overlooked law's critical importance to public health. Populations, Public Health, and the Law seeks to remedy that omission. The book demonstrates why public health protection is a vital objective for the law and presents a new population-based approach to legal analysis that can help law achieve its public health mission while remaining true to its own core values.

By looking at a diverse range of topics, including food safety, death and dying, and pandemic preparedness, Wendy E. Parmet shows how a population-based legal analysis that recalls the importance of populations and uses the tools of public health can enhance legal decision making while protecting both public health and the rights and liberties of individuals and their communities.


The condition of perfect public health requires such laws
and regulations, as will secure to man associated in society,
the same sanitary enjoyments that he would have as an iso
lated individual.

—Lemuel Shattuck et al., Report of the
Sanitary Commission of Massachusetts, 1850

PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUES are pervasive in the law. Every day in courtrooms throughout the United States, and indeed across the globe, courts hear cases that relate directly or indirectly to the public's health. Judges in constitutional law cases ponder the state's power to protect public health and the impact of that power on the rights of individuals. Administrative tribunals contemplate the meaning of statutes empowering them to regulate in the name of public health. Private parties contest the liability of individuals and firms that act in ways that endanger the health of others.

Yet, despite the ubiquity of public health issues in law, surprisingly little attention has been paid to public health's importance to law. Indeed, in field after field of American law, the centrality of public health issues has been overlooked by both courts and theorists. Cases are analyzed and decisions are made without a full appreciation of either the central role that public health has in the relevant legal field or the insights that public . . .

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