Ethics and British public health law, 1920-2020


  • Dr Janet Weston

    London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom

Project summary

Public health, encompassing collective organised efforts to prevent disease, prolong life, and promote health, employs distinctive and often controversial methods of surveillance, compulsion, coercion, and wide-ranging state intervention. Debate about these in terms of morality, justice, or fairness and the decisions reached contribute to the ethical frameworks through which public health operates. How have the ethics of public health changed, over time and in relation to different publics, problems, and politics? This project places public health ethics in historical context. It focuses on public health law to ask how and why the implicit and explicit ethical frameworks of public health in Britain have changed, from interwar 'social medicine' to the era of Covid-19. Working collaboratively with public health practitioners and scientists, it also explores the potential of much closer interactions between the humanities and public health, for the benefit of both fields.