Public Health Law and Ethics: A Reader

By Lawrence O. Gostin | Go to book overview

TWO
Public Health
The Population-Based Perspective

The readings in this chapter examine the origins, theories, and practices of public health. The first section, “History, ” discusses the evolution of American traditions in public health. The reading by the famous Sanitary Commission of Massachusetts, authored by an early pioneer of public health, Lemuel Shattuck, highlights the importance of legal systems supporting disease prevention and health promotion, as well as the challenges and tensions within the field in the mid-nineteenth century. The reading by Elizabeth Fee, former Johns Hopkins professor and now at the National Library of Medicine, traces the history of American public health — the major epidemics, the social responses, and the important social movements.

The second section, “Mission and Functions, ” emphasizes the goals, services, and roles of public health. The Institute of Medicine's (IOM) influential 1988 report The Future of Public Health provided the foundations for modern public health programs. The IOM expressed concern about the lack of leadership and visibility in the field of public health. Scott Burris, a leading public health law scholar from Temple University, explains why the field of public health often does not receive the public and political support it deserves (see also McGinnis 2001).

The final section, “The Population Focus, ” discusses one of the most distinctive aspects of the field of public health relative to other health professions: the emphasis on the well-being of the population as opposed

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