Our last set of topics in this class makes a transition away from traditional bioethical questions — those dealing with the physician-patient encounter, and individual decisions concerning our embodied natures — and towards a relatively new field that focuses on our embodied natures as a population. People are not just individuals who must make difficult decisions about, say, how to end their lives; they are also parts of cultures, societies, and now a global population that can do better or worse — be healthier or not. The field of public health ethics focuses on the health of everyone, and on decisions, regulations and policies that effect populations rather than individuals. Childhood obesity, for instance, is a public health issue, and instituting policies of healthier school lunch options is a public health solution. The recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a public health emergency, as the proliferation of a deadly disease concerns not only the entire population of several African countries, but the world as a whole. Even seat-belt and motorcycle helmet laws are public health issues, since instituting them results in a healthier public.
In our last several classes, we will focus on public health issues related to what may be the most important moral crises of our time: population growth, resource depletion and climate disruption. To whet your appetite for this set of issues, give a quick watch to this great TED talk by Hans Rosling.
You can find our final two sections, then, here: