Online Program

Ecological health and new frontiers for public health ethics

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 5:10 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.

Bruce Jennings, MA, -, Center for Humans and Nature, Brentwood, TN

Today there is an ecological turn underway in the study of environmental health. Historically environmental health has focused on dangerous pollutants, but today broader perspectives on the relationships between health and the natural environment are emerging. Increasingly, health hazards come from multiple factors that undermine the functioning of complex holistic natural systems. For example, there is a growing awareness of the health effects of global climate change, a process that involves much more than atmospheric carbon dioxide “pollution.”

This paper will focus on this ecological turn and its implications for the study of public health ethics. It moves away from an individualistic human-centered perspective in which the environment is understood as an instrumental backdrop for human health. It is a turn toward a relational perspective in which the natural (and built) environment is understood as a context of complex systems, from which human behavior and health emerge.

The implications for public health ethics are significant. The stage and field of ethical agency and responsibility is shifting. If the conditions that undermine health and that promote it are systemic, institutional, and fundamentally global in scale, then an ethical response to these conditions cannot be focused on individual behaviors operating on local or small regional scales. Ethical theory is only beginning to develop systematic and global accounts of justice, cosmopolitan rights, and intergenerational obligations. Public health ethics—in tandem with bioethics and environmental ethics—can contribute to and draw from this innovative new form of theorizing.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Public health or related education
Public health or related public policy
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Identify ongoing changes in the field of environmental health. Compare a sanitary environmental perspective with an ecological perspective. Assess the implications for public health ethics of the ecological perspective on environmental health. Differentiate the nature and priorities of biomedical ethics, public health ethics, and environmental ethics.

Keyword(s): Environmental Justice, Sustainability

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have 25 years teaching and research experience in bioethics and public health ethics, and 10 years of similar experience in environmental ethics. I have published extensively in these fields and topics to be addressed in my presentation.
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.