Publication Date


Document Type

Book Chapter

Organizational Units

Sturm College of Law


Public health ethics, Distribution, Egalitarianism, Utilitarianism, Welfare, Resources


This chapter discusses how justice applies to public health. It begins by outlining three different metrics employed in discussions of justice: resources, capabilities, and welfare. It then discusses different accounts of justice in distribution, reviewing utilitarianism, egalitarianism, prioritarianism, and sufficientarianism, as well as desert-based theories, and applies these distributive approaches to public health examples. Next, it examines the interplay between distributive justice and individual rights, such as religious rights, property rights, and rights against discrimination, by discussing examples such as mandatory treatment and screening. The chapter also examines the nexus between public health and debates concerning whose interests matter to justice (the “scope of justice”), including global justice, intergenerational justice, and environmental justice, as well as debates concerning whether justice applies to individual choices or only to institutional structures (the “site of justice”). The chapter closes with a discussion of strategies, including deliberative and aggregative democracy, for adjudicating disagreements about justice.

Publication Statement

Originally published as Govind Persad, Justice and Public Health, in Oxford Handbook of Public Health Ethics 33 (Anna Mastroianni, Jeff Kahn & Nancy Kass, eds., 2019). Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press.

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