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Human rights, ideology, and public health: Lessons from the war on terror

Wendy K. Mariner, JD, MPH, Professor of Health Law, Boston University School of Public Health, 715 Albany Street, Boston, MA 02118, 617 638-4626, wmariner@bu.edu

The war on terror has revealed a correlation between ideologies that ignore or diminish human rights and national policies that undermine public health. This presentation examines the distinction between positive public health laws and programs, which provide the infrastructure, environmental protections and human services that protect the health of populations, and negative public health laws and policies, which rely on controlling individual (but not corporate) behavior. The human rights and health movement takes a positive public health approach, offering affirmative programs to improve health by increasing political and economic equality, providing care, and creating safe products and workplaces and a healthy environmental. In contrast, ideologies stressing property rights and personal responsibility for risks often take a negative public health approach, sometimes drawing support from public health research demonstrating how personal behavior influences health. Laws intended to respond to bioterrorism will be examined to identify the influence of ideology and effects on public health outcomes and human rights. The results offer a conceptual framework for understanding the role of human rights in crafting laws that promote positive public health and limiting the political abuses invited by negative public health policies.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Human Rights, Health Law

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Human Rights and Public Health

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA