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Health Law and Ethics |

Public Health Law in a New Century Part III: Public Health Regulation: A Systematic Evaluation

Lawrence O. Gostin, JD, LLD
JAMA. 2000;283(23):3118-3122. doi:10.1001/jama.283.23.3118.
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Public health interventions need justification because they intrude on individual rights and incur economic costs. Coercive interventions can be justified in only 3 cases: to avert a risk of serious harm to other persons, to protect the welfare of incompetent persons, and, most controversially, to prevent a risk to the person himself/herself.

This article proposes a systematic evaluation of public health regulation. The article recommends that public health authorities should bear the burden of justification and, therefore, should demonstrate (1) a significant risk based on scientific evidence; (2) the intervention's effectiveness by showing a reasonable fit between means and ends; (3) that economic costs are reasonable; (4) that human rights burdens are reasonable; and (5) that benefits, costs, and burdens are fairly distributed.

The 3 articles in this series have sought to provide a fuller understanding of the varied ways in which law can advance the public's health. Public health law should be seen broadly as the government's power and responsibility to ensure the conditions for the population's health. As such, public health law has transcending importance in how we think about government, politics, and policy.

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