Populations, Public Health, and the Law

By Wendy E. Parmet | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Public Health and the
Population Perspective

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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