Document Type


Publication Date



I offer a brief excerpt from my book, Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint. My definition of public health law follows, and the remainder of this excerpt offers a justification as well as an expansion of the ideas presented: Public health law is the study of the legal powers and duties of the state, in collaboration with its partners (e.g., health care, business, the community, the media, and academe), to assure the conditions for people to be healthy (to identify, prevent, and ameliorate risks to health in the population) and the limitations on the power of the state to constrain the autonomy, privacy, liberty, proprietary, or other legally protected interests of individuals for the common good. The prime objective of public health law is to pursue the highest possible level of physical and mental health in the population, consistent with the values of social justice. Several themes emerge from this definition: (1) government power and duty, (2) coercion and limits on state power, (3) government's partners in the "public health system," (4) the population focus, (5) communities and civic participation, (6) the prevention orientation, and (7) social justice.

Publication Citation

10 J. Health Care L. & Pol'y 1-12 (2007)