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date: 20 October 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Public health interventions present distinct ethical challenges relative to clinical medical interventions, primarily because of their focus on prevention (rather than treatment) and their intended impact on the health of a population as a whole (rather than the individual). Public health interventions can be broadly categorized as falling into two main types: educational and environmental. Educational interventions aim to change individual behaviors, whereas environmental interventions seek to change the social and environmental conditions that encourage, require, or reinforce behaviors that are either beneficial or harmful to health. Public health interventions raise normative concerns with respect to three key ethical principles: the potential for harm (including stigmatization, lost opportunity costs, and threats to autonomy), justice, and social solidarity, particularly with respect to the problem of free riders. The high value placed on individual liberty in the modern era makes the task of asking individuals to give up freedoms to protect and promote population health increasingly difficult.

Keywords: public health ethics, public health interventions, justice, autonomy, social solidarity, harm, stigmatization, free riders

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