Ethical Dilemmas in Public Health
Public health is a field fraught with ethical dilemmas. Why? Because in public health, the stakes are high. Decisions may involve life-and-death consequences. In
response to a disaster, for example, choosing one population to serve may have dire consequences for another population in equally critical straights. Issues are
complex. For example, ethical guidelines in HIV trials in South Africa dictate that participants receive “state-of-the-art” HIV reduction interventions, yet some
stakeholders believe that waiting for state-of-the-art interventions is not practical or economically feasible and can therefore be a harmful practice (Essack, 2014).
Decreasing budgets and increasing costs necessitate that public health leaders sometimes must make difficult decisions involving equally deserving programs, or between
the rights of the many versus the rights of the few or of individuals. Public health also serves the important goal of ensuring that benefits of interventions are
distributed fairly and justly within populations.
Thus, it behooves public health administrators to familiarize themselves with the complexities of ethical principles and strategies and to be aware of their own
alignment of ethical principles with personal values.
For this week’s Discussion, reflect on an ethical dilemma that you have faced in a public health setting.
Or, alternatively, select:
Case study 6.3 in Novick and Morrow’s Public Health Administration (Shi & Johnson, 2014)
One of the ethics case studies at the end of Modules 4, 6, 7, 8, or 9, or embedded within Module 5, in Jennings et al. (2003) located in the Learning Resources
Consider the ethical principles that might guide you in dealing with the situation you chose. What insights does the Public Health Code of Ethics (e.g., “Principles of
the Ethical Practice of Public Health”) offer you in this instance?