Virtue ethics and public health

a practice-based analysis

Wendy A. Rogers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Public health plays an important, albeit often unnoticed, role in protecting and promoting the health of populations. The activities of public health are complex, performed by multiple professionals, and range from the innocuous to the intrusive. Ethical analyses in public health reflect some of this complexity and fragmentation, with no one approach able to capture the full range of ethical considerations raised by public health activities. There are however, good reasons why we should pursue such analyses. Providing a robust ethical framework for public health may promote the identity and function of public health, address some of the shortcomings of utilitarianism, and help to combat the threat that public health faces through lack of political will in many parts of the world. In this paper I argue that Alasdair MacIntyre's account of practices and virtues can make a valuable contribution to public health ethics. The first part of the paper argues that public health may properly be described as the type of practice that provides an arena for the exercise of virtues. This is followed by an analysis of the three virtues of honesty, courage and justice in public health practice. Using virtue theory captures morally important elements of public health and helps to maintain awareness of significant moral values in the practice of public health. Such awareness is crucial in maintaining and defending the integrity of public health.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-21
Number of pages12
JournalMonash bioethics review
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2004

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