Mutual Moral Obligations in the Prevention of Infectious Diseases
Not so long ago health policy was about little more than the provision of medical care. The availability of treatment is important for those in need of cure, but by now it is a well-shown fact that health is generally determined to a much greater extent by other factors. Genetic constitution, lifestyle choices and socio-economic environment largely explain why some of us become ill or die earlier than others who remain healthy (Mackenbach 1996; McKeown 1976; Wilkinson and Marmot 2003). While some of these factors fall under the control of an individual, the majority does not. Research increasingly indicates how remarkably sensitive our health seems to be to what has become known as the ‘social determinants of health’. These factors generally fall beyond the control of an individual, but can nonetheless be influenced on a population level. This causes a shift in the focus of health policy from the classic provision of health care to policies specifically designed to influence the causal factors of ill-health in different non-medical fields. The flipside of that evolution is a significant increase of the state’s influence in the sphere of individual lives. A pertinent question remains the one that asks for the legitimate role of governments in modifying, discouraging or prohibiting behaviors that lead to ill-health. To what extent can and should we hold public policy responsible for us leading a healthy life? Most scholars will argue that governments indeed have a role to play, but that the limits will be reached when public health measures would imply large sacrifices of individual liberty.
KeywordsMoral Obligation Moral Duty Precautionary Measure Private Sphere Public Health Emergency
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