Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 245–255 | Cite as

International public health law: not so much WHO as why, and not enough WHO and why not?

  • Shawn H. E. Harmon
Scientific Contribution


To state the obvious, “health matters”, but health (or its equitable enjoyment) is neither simple nor easy. Public health in particular, which encompasses a broad collection of complex and multidisciplinary activities which are critical to the wellbeing and security of individuals, populations and nations, is a difficult milieu to master effectively. In fact, despite the vital importance of public health, there is a relative dearth of ethico-legal norms tailored for, and directed at, the public health sector, particularly at the international level. This is a state of affairs which is no longer tenable in the global environment. This article argues that public health promotion is a moral duty, and that international actors are key stakeholders upon whom this duty falls. In particular, the World Health Organization bears a heavy responsibility in this regard. The article claims that better health can and must be better promoted through a more robust interpretation of the WHO’s role, arguing that neither the WHO nor international law have yet played their necessary part in promoting health for all.


International public health World Health Organization Regulation Law-making Ethics Values Norms 



The author would like to acknowledge the valuable contribution of Dr. Graeme Laurie, Professor of Medical Jurisprudence, University of Edinburgh, and Director, AHRC SCRIPT, as well as the anonymous reviewers.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ESRC InnoGen and AHRC SCRIPTUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghScotland, UK

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