236579 Opportunities for corporations to protect the public's health by choosing to do no harm: A legal analysis

Monday, October 31, 2011: 11:30 AM

Lainie Rutkow, JD, PhD, MPH , Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Stephen Teret, JD, MPH , Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD
Corporations can promote or harm the public's health through their products and business practices relative to trade. For example, many corporations, including numerous pharmaceutical manufacturers, donate their products to under-resourced countries, providing materials to cure or prevent diseases. On the other hand, some corporations manufacture cigarettes, which are associated with excess morbidity and mortality. Motor vehicle manufacturers have revolutionized transportation, yet their products are annually associated with hundreds of thousands of injuries and deaths. The legal system can incentivize particular corporate practices and discourage others, with important ramifications for trade and public health. For instance, the maximization of profits is often portrayed as a legal mandate, which of course would affect corporations' decisions and actions, some of which may be harmful to the public. But without a legal imperative to maximize profits, corporations can legally forego profitable activities that may endanger the public. Neither courts nor legislative bodies have directly identified a corporate obligation to maximize profits that could justify the infliction of harm. We used legal research and analysis to identify instances in which corporations may legally engage in practices that protect or enhance the public's health, even if profits are not maximized. We discuss the ramifications of these practices for public health and trade policy. By understanding how corporations can legally follow a path of “do no harm,” even if this results in a partial sacrifice of profits, practitioners can better capitalize on opportunities to encourage corporations to protect, rather than harm, the public's health.

Learning Areas:
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
1) Describe ways in which the legal system incentivizes particular corporate practices and discourages others in the context of trade and public health 2) Identify instances when corporations can legally engage in practices that promote the public’s health, even if profits are not maximized 3) Explain the potential ramifications for public health and trade policy if corporations choose to follow a legally sound path of “do no harm”

Keywords: Policy/Policy Development, Public/Private Partnerships

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I am a public health lawyer with expertise in the area of corporations and the public's health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.