Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 387–402 | Cite as

The evolution of public health ethics frameworks: systematic review of moral values and norms in public health policy

  • Mahmoud Abbasi
  • Reza Majdzadeh
  • Alireza Zali
  • Abbas Karimi
  • Forouzan AkramiEmail author
Review Article


Given the evolution of the public health (PH) and the changes from the phenomenon of globalization, this area has encountered new ethical challenges. In order to find a coherent approach to address ethical issues in PH policy, this study aimed to identify the evolution of public health ethics (PHE) frameworks and the main moral values and norms in PH practice and policy. According to the research questions, a systematic search of the literature, in English, with no time limit was performed using the main keywords in databases Web of Science (ISI) and PubMed. Finally, the full text of 56 papers was analyzed. Most of the frameworks have common underpinning assumptions and beliefs, and the need to balance PH moral obligation to prevent harm and health promotion with respect for individual autonomy has been specified. As such, a clear shift from liberal values in biomedical ethics is seen toward the community’s collective values in PHE. The main moral norms in PH practice and policy included protecting the population against harm and improving PH benefits, utility and evidenced-based effectiveness, distributive justice and fairness, respect for all, privacy and confidentiality, solidarity, social responsibility, community empowerment and participation, transparency, accountability and trust. Systematic review of PHE frameworks indicates utilization of the aforementioned moral norms through an practical framework as an ethical guide for action in the PH policy. The validity of this process requires a systematic approach including procedural conditions.


Public heath Health policy Morals/ethics Justice 



This study is part of PhD thesis in the field of Bioethics that funded by Shahid Beheshti University of Medical Sciences. Authors express their appreciation to the scholars who contributed to this study and for their valuable comments.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mahmoud Abbasi
    • 1
  • Reza Majdzadeh
    • 2
  • Alireza Zali
    • 3
  • Abbas Karimi
    • 4
  • Forouzan Akrami
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Medical Ethics and Law Research CenterShahid Beheshti University of Medical SciencesTehranIran
  2. 2.Community Based Participatory Research Center and Knowledge Utilization Research CenterTehran University of Medical SciencesTehranIran
  3. 3.Functional Neurosurgery Research Center, Shohada Tajrish Neurosurgical Center of ExcellenceShahid Beheshti University of Medical SciencesTehranIran
  4. 4.Faculty of Law and Political ScienceUniversity of TehranTehranIran

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