In Public Health Law In an Age of Terrorism: Rethinking Individual Rights and Common Goods, Gostin examines public health law and the deficiencies associated with the current policies. He claims that there has been little emphasis on modernizing the laws to accommodate the recent advances in public health and constitutional law (Gostin 374). “Reform of public health law is essential to ensure that public health agencies have clear missions and functions, stable sources of financing, adequate powers to avert or manage health threats, and restrains on powers to maintain respect for personal rights and liberties” (Gostin 374-375).
During his argument, he challenges critic’s concerns about personal libertarianism and the protection of personal rights in the event of a national wide medical emergency. For Gostin, compulsory power is necessary for public health because the government has the right to prevent individuals from endangering others. “The state undoubtedly needs a certain amount of authority to protect the public’s health” (Gostin 381). This action obviously compromises the individual’s autonomy in certain situations and creates moral concerns for authorities.
In addition to his argument, I think it’s important for critics to recognize how these policies come into play and who writes them. As Americans, we have the civil liberty to vote for policy makers, state representatives and even the passage of certain laws. While the individual’s current right may be undermined at the time of an emergency, they have the capacity to exercise their personal liberty in voting for state representatives and legislative officials.
You cannot remove paternalism from public health. As Thaler and Sunstein have pointed out, “some kind of paternalism is likely whenever such institutions set out arrangements that will prevail unless people affirmatively choose otherwise” (Thaler and Sunstein 390). The public voted for such regulations and must comply with them accordingly. In the realm of public health policy we often forget where the law initially stems from. It’s the people.
As citizens, we have the ability to exercise our autonomy towards choosing which paternalistic approach we like the most; perhaps it’s the one that promotes the most personal freedom. Regardless of the policy outcome, paternalism and public health go hand in hand.
Thaler, Richard H., Sunstein, Cass R. “Behavioral Economics, Public Policy, and Paternalism: Libertarian Paternalism.” Arguing About Bioethics. London: Routledge, 2012. 386-391. Print.
Gostin, L.O. “Public Health Law in an Age of Terrorism: Rethinking Individual Rights and Common Goods.” Arguing About Bioethics. London: Routledge, 2012. 374-384. Print.