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Public health law focuses on legal issues in public health practice and on the public health effects of legal practice. Public health law typically has three major areas of practice: police power, disease and injury prevention, and the law of populations.

Contents

Police power

These areas are employed by governmental agencies. Bioterrorism is a growing focus of this practice area, and public health lawyers have worked in the creation of the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act and the Model State Public Health Act.

Disease and injury prevention

This broader area of public health law applies legal tools to public health problems associated with disease and injury. Practitioners apply legislation, regulation, litigation (private enforcement), and international law to public health problems using the law as an instrument of public health. Litigation against tobacco companies in the United States provides an excellent example.

Law of populations

Population-based legal analysis is the theoretical foundation of public health law. The law of populations is a relatively new theoretical framework in jurisprudence that seeks to analyze legal problems using the tools of epidemiology. Population-based legal analysis can be applied to traditional public health problems but also has application in environmental law, zoning, evidence, and complex tort.

Public Health Law Research

In 2009, a Public Health Law Research[1] (PHLR) program at Temple University was founded to promote effective regulatory, legal and policy solutions to improve public health. It is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Lawyers have long proclaimed the maxim that “the health of the people is the supreme law,”(Salus populi suprema lex esto)[2] but in practice, making law work for public health is a constant challenge. PHLR provides the evidentiary foundation for these efforts. Through policymaking studies, PHLR identifies forces that shape public health policy and strategies for effecting policy change. Through mapping studies, it illuminates what has been done, and thus, what kind of action it is possible for various government units to take. Through implementation studies, it provides information about how best to ensure that “law on the books” becomes effective “law on the streets”. Through intervention studies, it determines which legal approaches are most efficacious in improving health environments, behaviors, and outcomes, and identify harmful legal side effects. Finally, through mechanism studies, it tells us why laws have the effects they do, and what mechanisms are at our disposal for improving the effectiveness of legal interventions.

Academic resources

  • European Journal of Health Law, ISSN: 1571-8093 (electronic) 0929-0273 (Paper), Springer
  • Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, ISSN: 1527-1927 (electronic) 0361-6878 (paper), Duke University Press
  • Public Health Law Research*

Footnotes

  1. ^ http://www.publichealthlawresearch.org
  2. ^ "Salus Populi Suprema Lex": the health of the people is the supreme law. W H Helfand, J Lazarus, and P Theerman, American Journal of Public Health, May 2001, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1446671/

See also

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