Online Program

Social Justice and Public Health: Public Health Policy-Makers' Perspectives

Tuesday, November 3, 2015 : 12:50 p.m. - 1:10 p.m.

Maxwell Smith, M.Sc., Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
‘Social justice’ is routinely identified as a central value for public health practice and, indeed, for the public’s health. For instance, the claim that ‘social justice is the foundation of public health’ has a long history in the public health and public health ethics literature. Social justice is routinely invoked in practice as well; for example, ‘a commitment to social justice’ is included in the Public Health Agency of Canada’s statement on the core competencies necessary for the practice of public health.

Yet, at the same time it is rarely acknowledged that social justice is a complex, multifaceted concept. As such, the concept of social justice often precludes a single (or simple) interpretation or application, which means that a commitment to social justice in practice might tend to refer to diverse, if not divergent, views about the goals and obligations of public health. If social justice is to play a central role in public health, then its features ought to be explored so that it may provide robust, consistent, and practicable ethical guidance for policy and practice.

While some philosophical accounts have recently been proffered to specify the contents and role of social justice in the context of public health, these works lack a morally significant empirical component that should be considered integral to any account of social justice in public health; that is, how social justice is understood, negotiated, and pursued in practice. This presentation will report findings from a qualitative study that involved key informant interviews with public health policy-makers in two distinct domains of public health, chronic disease prevention and public health emergency preparedness and response, which were conducted with the aim of achieving contextual understanding of how social justice is conceptualized and negotiated in public health practice and to capture whether different norms of social justice obtain in different public health contexts. It is the goal of this empirical research, which uses an analytic lens informed by philosophical accounts of social justice, to contribute to both ethical theory and practice by providing a deeper contextual understanding of how social justice is conceptualized and negotiated in practice.

Learning Areas:

Chronic disease management and prevention
Ethics, professional and legal requirements
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy
Public health or related research
Social and behavioral sciences

Learning Objectives:
Discuss findings of public health policy-maker's perspectives on the meaning and role of social justice in public health policy and practice, and discuss implications for policy, practice, and ethical theory. Analyze the ambiguous invocation of the concept 'social justice' in public health policy and practice, and describe the implications this might have for public health policy and practice.

Keyword(s): Social Justice, Ethics

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have extensive graduate education in public health ethics and have led and/or worked on several research projects in the area of public health ethics. The research I will be presenting is my doctoral research.
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.