Legal and policy responses to COVID-19 rest on and express the balance of different basic values and principles. Earlier and current regulatory approaches bring into sharp relief how liberty must be understood and weighed against other values. This is for the sake of liberty itself, but crucially too for other compelling aspects of social justice.
Emergency powers and pandemic ethics
COVID-19 is a global problem, albeit one that governments across the world have been approaching differently. Over the past weeks we have seen fast changes in policies as different countries have sought to anticipate and respond to the extraordinary scale of the challenges that we face and which lie ahead. (more…)
In October 2017, we were proud and honoured to mark the launch of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) in the University of Bristol Law School. The Centre is founded on ambitious aims to push the boundaries of scholarship in health law: expand its methods and approaches; broaden its practical reach and points of focus; enhance its place in shaping education; and increase its engagement with, relevance to, and impacts on people, organisations, regulators, and policy-makers across society.
Our launch event allowed a showcase of the breadth of scholarly interest and inquiry within CHLS, as well as an opportunity to hear presentations from leading figures in health, law, and associated disciplines. We start from a basic premise that the value and significance of health requires understandings from ranging disciplinary perspectives, looking across social sectors and actors. We are interested in the roles served by law to protect and promote rights, achieve greater social justice, and to ensure that health and other fundamental values are secured fairly for all.
Since the time of our launch, CHLS has gone from strength to strength. Our community of students, academics and collaborators continues to grow. And we are delighted in March 2019 to publish a Special Issue of the Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly (NILQ), which shows well the depth, range and reach of our ambitions. The Special Issue comprises contributions from 11 of CHLS’ members, as well as from colleagues from other universities. They represent legal scholarship that engages with ethical considerations and social justice, history, human rights, philosophy, politics and social sciences. They approach questions spanning from very individualised rights, to population- and systems-level analyses. (more…)
Debates on alcohol policy are necessarily complex and controversial, and a complete consensus on how we should regulate this area will not be achieved. Like other lawful but regulated products, alcohol presents benefits and harms that may be understood from ranging perspectives. These include views based in cultural, economic, ethical, historical, legal, medical, population-based, religious, and social understandings. Of necessity, outlooks on alcohol policy and the role of regulation therefore vary both within and across such differing sources of critique. The values—positive and negative—of alcohol at individual, familial, community, commercial, and population levels thus call for careful, reasoned, and respectful public debates.
Even within the context of public health analysis, we cannot just look to scientific studies to inform and determine policy: we are required to consider forms of ‘evidence’ from different disciplines and sectors. This is well explained in a recent publication by the Health Foundation, with papers applied to child obesity but with lessons that are generalisable across health policy. However, for many working in public health, or members of wider communities who have interests in what makes good health policy, challenges emerge in relation to the conduct of public debates: often care, reason, and respect are replaced by simplistic slurs and assertions. And in this context, accusations of nanny statism are a key and persistent example. (more…)
The World Health Organization (WHO) celebrated its 70th anniversary last month, on 7th April 2018, which is World Health Day. The WHO was established in 1948 and one of its founding principles provides that:
the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.
The WHO has achieved a considerable amount in that time by focusing on many of the key challenges to reducing global health inequalities. Some of the most recent challenges faced by the WHO are the rise in drug resistance across the globe, as well as the threat of global pandemics, as witnessed with the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014, and the burdens of noncommunicable disease. International organisations such as the WHO have a crucial role to play in tackling these threats to our health fairly and effectively, but it cannot achieve change alone. The WHO must do so in partnership with national governments and other key actors. Within these agendas, there are crucial roles for law and governance as levers to help create the conditions in which people can enjoy good physical and mental health.
One of the world’s leading global health law scholars, and one such key actor and WHO collaborator, Professor Larry Gostin, visited the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) at the University of Bristol in April 2018 as a Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor. He came to talk about his collaborations with the WHO, and to explore some of the key global health challenges with staff and students from across and beyond the university. A key focus throughout his visit was the ways that we can and should link scholarship with activism, policy, and practice: a question at the heart of the mission of CHLS. (more…)
Public health is proudly an evidence-based field. But evidence without values cannot tell us what we should do.
We need public health ethics if we are to understand and explain, by reference to the classic definition of public health advanced by Winslow, what we, as a society, ought to do to assure the conditions in which people can enjoy good health and equitable prospects for health. Using the ‘organised efforts of society’ to protect and promote health and well-being is an ethical goal—indeed, as many of us would argue, it is an ethical imperative. And to be achieved, it requires law and policy. To evaluate when threats to health warrant a public health response, scientific analyses must be complemented by matters such as the balancing of values, an assessment of the relative merits of different possible interventions, an appreciation of the likely risks and impacts of intervening, and a sensitivity to political and cultural contexts and realities. (more…)
Scholars at the University of Bristol Law School have enjoyed a longstanding presence at the forefront of research in health law, and the undergraduate unit in Medical Law has become one of the most popular options on our degree programme. The School is home to leaders in fields that examine health law topics such as reproduction, mental health, public and global health, medical innovation, public procurement, and professional regulation. Our academics explore these issues from critical perspectives that include ethical, justice-based, historical, regulatory, economic, political and socio-legal approaches. As well as leading in research and education, we have close engagement with bodies responsible for advocacy, regulation, standard-setting, professional training, and providing ethical review and advice.
In reflection of this excellent concentration of expertise and experience, we have founded a new research Centre and are launching an exciting LLM Programme in Health, Law, and Society. Our aim with this innovative degree is to advance a course that looks at, but also reaches far beyond, questions concerning medicine and healthcare, to incorporate knowledge and understanding of how law and governance across all social and political sectors may impact health—for better or for worse. The breadth and depth of study on the course, reflecting directly our diverse range of teaching and research interests, is enhanced by the inclusion throughout the year of guest sessions led by scholars and specialists whose work and practice afford them unique insights and perspectives. (more…)