Changing How We Think (and Talk) About Public Health Law

By Scott Burris, JD

Marice Ashe, Donna Levin, Matthew Penn, Michelle Larkin and I have a new piece in the Annual Review of Public Health (also available on SSRN). We set out a “transdisciplinary model of public health law” that encompasses within the core of the field both the traditional public health law practice of lawyers and what we call “legal epidemiology” — all the important public health law functions (from policy design to evaluation) that are typically carried out by people without legal training. I hope you will take a look.

Why this article and a transdisciplinary model? The idea comes out of the experience that the authors have all had trying to promote public health law practice and research. We realized that in spite of the success of the field and its importance to public health, a lot of non-lawyers in public health training, practice and research were uncomfortable with law — even when their work had to do with enforcing it or evaluating its impact.

We realized that we as lawyers were making things worse, by adhering to a traditional view of public health law as purely a practice of lawyers. We found that acknowledging the work of non-lawyers in public health law, conceptualizing key public health law activities in scientific terms, and even borrowing some scientific practices for legal work, were effective ways to change attitudes and improve our impact. Many of us have articles in the pipeline on legal epidemiology, policy surveillance and “the five essential public health law services” that will show the model in action.

I don’t have to tell readers of this blog that public health law is a great field. I hope the concept of transdisciplinary model will help make it a truly integral part of public health.

Read the full article here.

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