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R A Goodman, M A Rothstein, R E Hoffman, W López, G W Matthews. Oxford University Press, 2003. (Pp 462; price not stated). ISBN 0-19-514871-1
The aim of this book, written jointly by a variety of law and public health practice specialist authors—who represent the ranks of the legal and public health practitioners in the United States of America—is to clarify the principles of law as they bear on the practice of public health.
The reader is invited to improve their understanding of the legal principles underlying public health practice; that is to say how law may be applied to improve the health of people. And after reading the book, this aspiration is reached, especially the discovery of the wide range of daily activities of public health where the legal dimension is present.
The first part is related with the conceptual foundations of the legal basis for public health practice and covers topics as constitutional and statutory basis, the applications of regulatory and criminal law—for example, infectious disease pathogens used as weapons of mass destruction—, and overarching areas like common ethical issues in public health such us the concerns about balancing benefits between communities and individuals or human rights. Also the book provides a framework that can guide practitioners’ reflections in their decisions.
The last two parts examine the public health law infrastructure and make recommendations for needed improvements. With many selected examples the interrelation of law with the core functions of public health are thoroughly reviewed and documented: the interaction between public health practitioners and legal counsel, surveillance and outbreak investigations, research, confidentiality and privacy, managed care in public health, interventions in emergency response, and particular populations (children, homeless persons, disabilities, or undocumented immigrants). And also high priority and emerging areas in public health such as genomics, communicable diseases, public health emergencies, reproductive health, tobacco prevention, and environmental, injury, occupational issues.
It must be taken into account that the context of the book is the United States, but despite the fact of the peculiarities of its regulation, the basis and principles are applicable to any country beyond its own legislation and serves as a primary resource for promoting the development and implementation of an effective public health law infrastructure and increase the visibility and effectiveness of law as a tool for the promotion of the public’s health. It is recommendable reading for public health practitioners wishing to improve their understanding about how the law affects the prevention of disease and injury.