Institute for Practical Ethics

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From bioterrorism threats to newly emerging infectious diseases to youth tobacco use, national and international leaders, health professionals, and citizens are confronted with dramatic ethical choices that involve a careful balancing of individual and collective interests and difficult tensions regarding resource allocation. The Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, through faculty working groups on public health law and ethics and public health curriculum development, has nurtured the development of a number of new courses and programs that feature public health ethics, such as the new Master's of Public Health degree program and the new undergraduate major in Human Biology. Institute faculty also collaborate with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national and state public health organizations on projects addressing issues in public health ethics.

Master's of Public Health degree: The Institute participated with, and helped to coordinate, faculty from around the University to establish a new MPH degree, which was approved in 2003 and formally inaugurated in 2004. In addition to the usual MPH requirements in epidemiology, biostatistics, community health, etc., the new UVA degree will feature in-depth study and research on the ethical and legal aspects of public health practice and policy, drawing on the distinguished and diverse faculty from the Institute for Practical Ethics & Public Life, the School of Law and other programs at UVA. Public health ethics and law are widely recognized nationally to require immediate scholarly and government attention as bioterrorism and infectious disease threats create legal and ethical challenges for government and private health professionals at every level. Numerous questions about public health statutory and emergency legal powers, such as the legal authority of state and county public health officials to respond to bioterrorism, as well as about the appropriateness of public-private partnerships and the role of the corporate sector in public health, are being raised for the first time in our history. Consequently, ethical deliberation, public discourse, and new laws are critically needed to address issues such as the collection and use of genetic information in public health, the power of public health professionals to use coercive measures to protect the nation's security, or the appropriateness of government campaigns to encourage citizens to stop smoking or lose weight. The MPH degree educates professionals to assume leadership roles in the state and the nation to particularly address these new legal and ethical challenges. More information regarding the MPH degree is available on the Department of Public Health Sciences website.

Human Biology Major: The Institute participated with faculty in the Department of Biology and other departments in proposing a new, distinguished interdisciplinary major in Human Biology that could integrate rigorous studies in biology with the social sciences and humanities, particularly ethics. This major was inaugurated in 2002, and the Institute shares responsibility for HBIO 481, the capstone seminar for fourth-year majors (PDF) (LINK).

The goals of the major are

1. To prepare a small, select group of undergraduates to address the ethical, legal and policy issues raised by developments in the life sciences. To this end, students will be required to establish a solid foundation in biology and a range of related courses in the social sciences and humanities. Students will also be required to perform laboratory or library research on a topic of biological and sociological importance to gain hands-on experience in the integration of traditionally separate disciplines.

2. To facilitate the students' integration of studies in biology, humanities and the social sciences by participation in a 4th year capstone seminar and the submission of a major's thesis. The capstone will be co-taught by faculty from several schools and departments and will build upon the foundation of previous coursework completed by the students. The thesis, based on the student's research and directed or co-directed by faculty outside of the Department of Biology, will synthesize the relevant scientific, ethical, legal, and policy issues of the project described.

3. To prepare students for further study in law, medicine, bioethics, public health, health policy, and health evaluation sciences, or for careers in business sectors such as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. [Additional information about this major].

BA/BS-MPH Program Featuring Ethics and Policy: This new 5-year program, with its particular focus on the ethical, legal, and social dimensions of science and population health, showcases the unique contributions the University hopes to make in educating leaders in public health, global health, and health policy. It will provide the opportunity for a few select students each year to undertake research and field work in public health as undergraduates and then to continue their work over a number of years and in greater depth as MPH students. Through this program, fourth-year undergraduate students will have the opportunity to begin doing MPH graduate course work, research, and internships while completing their undergraduate course work and the requirements of their particular majors. Students must fulfill all of the regular requirements for each of the separate degrees, i.e., for their particular undergraduate degree and for the MPH degree. Although they will begin accumulating graduate MPH credits as undergraduates, they will not be formally admitted to the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences (GSAS) to begin matriculation as graduate MPH students until after they have received their undergraduate degree and been formally accepted by GSAS.

Global Public Health Minor: The new Global Public Health Minor, which integrates ethics into global health courses, provides a new educational opportunity for undergraduates who wish to pursue academic or professional careers in public health in domestic and global settings. Students accepted into the Minor are required to do fieldwork as part of their undergraduate experience. The Global Public Health Minor requires a capstone course on ethics and health policy. During the course students reflect on the ethical dimensions of their fieldwork in global health and address different ways to analyze and address ethical questions that arose for them when they were working on international projects. IPE faculty teach and mentor students in the Minor, which was spearheaded and is directed by the IPE Associate Director. (More information

Selected Publications on Public Health Ethics:

Childress JF, Faden RR, Gaare RD, Gostin LO, Kahn J, Bonnie RJ, Kass NE, Mastroianni AC, Moreno JD, Nieburg P., "Public Health Ethics: Mapping the Terrain," Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 30(2) (Summer 2002): 170-8. (PDF)

James F. Childress, (2003) "Triage in Response to a Bioterrorist Attack," edited by Jonathan D. Moreno. In the Wake of Terror, Medicine and Morality in a Time of Crisis. (Chapter 5) Cambridge, MA. The MIT Press. (PDF)

James F. Childress and Ruth Gaare Bernheim, "Public Health Ethics, Public Justification and Public Trust," Bundesgesundheitsbl - Gesundheitsforsch -Gesundheitsschutz 2008 · 51:158–163. DOI 10.1007/s00103-008-0444-6. Online publiziert: 7. Februar 2008. (PDF)

James F. Childress and Ruth Gaare Bernheim, "Beyond the Liberal and Communitarian Impasse: A Framework and Vision for Public Health," Florida Law Review 55, No. 5 (December 2003): 1191-1218. (PDF)

Bernheim RG., "Public Health Ethics: The Voices of Practitioners," Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 31(4 Suppl) (Winter 2003):104-9. (PDF)

(For more information please see the Department of Public Health Sciences)