Public Health Ethics

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PUBH 6040 - Public Health Ethics

Please note: I reserve the right to change the syllabus as needed. I will promptly contact students in advance of changes and at the time a revised syllabus is posted.

Course Description

According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Public Health Ethics is the application of relevant principles and values to public health decision making. In applying an ethics framework, public health ethics inquiry carries out three core functions, namely 1) identifying and clarifying the ethical dilemma posed, 2) analyzing it in terms of alternative courses of action and their consequences, and 3) resolving the dilemma by deciding which course of action best incorporates and balances the guiding principles and values”. This course provides an overview of values and principles in public health ethics comparing and contrasting them with those of biomedical ethics. Students will critically examine selected cases that illustrate a range of public health ethical issues (e.g., ethics in disease screening programs, environmental justice, global public health research, etc.), identify ethical problems and use selected strategies to arrive at reasoned ethical positions. Students will also become familiar with ethical issues currently surrounding the field of public health.


By the end of this course you should be able to:

• Demonstrate knowledge of terms and concepts commonly used in discourse on ethics • Compare and contrast biomedical and public health ethics • Identify ethical problems in the public health field • Discuss the philosophical underpinnings of ethical decision making in public health • Analyze cases involving an ethical problem in the public health field • Cite at least six contemporary issues in the public health field that call for ethical decision making • Formulate arguments for at least two opposing positions in a current public health ethics debate

Required readings

Text: Holland, S. (2007). Public Health Ethics. Polity. Cambridge. ISBN-13: 978-07456-3303-9

$24.95 at

Coughlin, S (2009). Case studies in public health ethics. American Public Health Association. Washington DC.

ISBN-13; 978-0-87553-194-6
APHA members - $24.50
Non-members - $35.00

Suggested Readings

American Public Health Association Code of Ethics –

Gert, Bernard. The definition of morality. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Summer 2005. E. Zalta (ed.)

Jennings, B. Kahn, J., Mastroianni, A., Parker, L. Ethics and Public Health: Model Curriculum.

Course Evaluation:

Your grade will be determined by the following:

Nine (9) weekly quizzes – 50%
Group Project Presentation – 20%
Case Study Presentation – 20%
Participation and Attendance – 10%

Grading Scale
A = 90 -100
B = 80- 89
C = 79-70
D = 60- 69
F = below 60


1. Attendance: Attendance at all scheduled class meetings is required. More than one (1) unexcused absence will result in the reduction of the final grade by 5 points for each additional unexcused absence. Official documentation must be provided in order to excuse absences due to official university business, personal illness, emergency or disability-related matters. Call the instructor immediately (beforehand when possible) if you will miss class due to one of these situations.

2. Three (3) instances of arriving to a scheduled class meeting late (more than 10 minutes) or leaving class early will count as one (1) unexcused absence. Justifiable exceptions must be discussed with the instructor

3. Absence from a quiz/exam will only be excused and allowed to be taken as make-up exam in cases of serious emergencies or serious illnesses, or in the case of a...
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