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Course Descriptions

Public Health Law and Policy     LAW-706

Introduces the legal and policy foundations of the global, federal, state, and local public health systems in the United States, including pandemic preparation and response.

Public health agencies draw on many fields of law—constitutional, administrative, employment, criminal, tort, business, and tax law, to name only a few—in attempting to fulfill one of the fundamental obligations of all governments: to protect and promote the health and well-being of their population. Of course, people do not always welcome or embrace the actions of public health authorities and especially the restrictions imposed on their freedom to do as they please.

Nonetheless, at the present moment, most people apparently want public entities at the local, state, federal, and global level to act efficiently, effectively, and energetically to prevent, prepare for, and respond to major threats to the health of the public. We know that such actions can produce great results: indeed, the significant increase in average lifespan and the correlative reductions in morbidity and mortality in this country (and elsewhere, in most parts of the world) during the Twentieth Century are largely attributable to public health interventions rather than to the more dramatic “miracles” of clinical medicine. Yet improvements in health do benefit people of different races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic status equally. And achieving success generally has recently been very much in doubt, as the threats facing humankind—from novel microorganisms to climate-related catastrophes, and from less healthy life styles to chemical pollution--grow more numerous and deadly, while the efforts to combat them often seem poorly coordinated, badly executed, and ineffectual.

Public health law and policy constitute a setting where some of the mostly highly charged issues of our times are played out. Legislators and judges, as well as public health officers, face many challenges in balancing public welfare and private rights, and the division of authority between state or local actors and federal agencies, as well as the need for domestic policy to take account of international threats and responses, add further legal and ethical complications. This course aims to help students to: (1) better understand the structure and functions of the public health system; (2) define the concept of health through an examination of public health theory and practice; (3) understand the roles of government, private sector entities, and individuals in ensuring the conditions for people to be healthy; and (4) assess legal and ethical conflicts between governmental interests in public health and individual interests in liberty, equality, and self-governance in multiple contexts. These conflicts will be examined through critical facets of public health theory and practice— e.g., health promotion and communication; public health powers such as immunization, testing, screening, quarantine, and isolation; responding to national and international public health emergencies; regulation of businesses and professions; and tort litigation for the public’s health. While the global dimensions of protecting the public’s health will be discussed, the course will focus on public health law in the United States.

Units 3
Grading Options Numeric Only
Exam Type In-class Exam
Writing Requirement No
Skills/Experiential Requirement No

Grading Options: vary with the professor

Professors Teaching This Course