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Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint

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Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint
Revised and Expanded Second Edition. By Lawrence O. Gostin. California/Milbank Books on Health and the Public, 3. (University of California Press, Berkeley: 2008. Pg. 800. 86 Illustrations.) ISBN: 978-0-520-25376-6.

Reviewed by Auggie Moore - November 14, 2008

Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint, by Lawrence O. Gostin is the gold standard of books when it comes to a detailed and readable analysis of public health law, and the role that government does and should play in protecting the health of its citizens. The text is organized into four main sections: "conceptual foundations of public health law, law and the public's health, public health and civil liberties in conflict, and the future of the public's health." (Pg. xxviii). Over the course of this book Gostin details the legal aspects of public health law including constitutional and tort law. He looks at the role that public health law has played in the past and he also looks at the role of public health law in the future. When looking to the historical record he tackles both the uses and abuses of public health law, from the elimination of smallpox via mass vaccination to the Tuskegge syphilis experiments. On the whole, however, this book is devoted to public health law as it currently exists, and the political, ethical, economic, and social implications of its use.

This newly revised and expanded second edition of the book provides readers with a detailed overview of current public health law, and it offers insights and suggestions on how public health law can be modified to better protect the health and welfare of the population as a whole. Gostin, an Associate Dean and the Linda D. and Timothy J. O'Neill Professor of Global Health Law at the Georgetown University Law Center, has written a lucid and informative account of the issues - both ethical and legal - faced by public health officials and others involved in the evolving field of public health law.

This new edition of Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint, has been greatly expanded, with new sections covering the threats posed by bioterrorism, emerging infectious agents such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and chronic diseases such as obesity. Gostin tackles issues such as international public health law and administrative law. This new edition also features boxed texts that highlight significant issues such as biosecurity, biosurveillance, public health tracking, OSHA's new governance strategies, and more.

What role does the government have in ensuring the health and well-being of its citizens? How can the government exercise control over a population when a health crisis develops? When can the government forcibly detain a sick individual for the benefit of the healthy population? What ethical and moral consideration should be taken into account when restricting someone's liberties in the face of a burgeoning health concern? These, and many more questions are addressed in Public Health Law: Power, Duty, Restraint, making this book essential reading for public health professionals and students in many fields ranging from law to epidemiology.

Perhaps most important, not only has Gostin composed a comprehensive, timely, and authoritative text on public health law, but his narrative is so compelling that this book is a real page turner. Thereby making this book readily accessible to general readers and professionals alike, and making it a true pleasure to read and study. For those interested in pursing the topic of Public Health Law in greater detail, you will find that Gostin's more than 200 pages of detailed endnotes, his bibliography, and list of law cases referenced, to be invaluable. I highly recommend this book to public health professionals, university level instructors, and general readers interested in seeking to gain a solid foundation in the growing field of public health law.

Related Reviews:

Mass Mediated Disease, by Debra E. Blakely.
A Case Study Analysis of Three Flu Pandemics and Public Health Policy.

Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism, by Marion Nestle.
An intriguing look at the politics of food safety, and the emerging threats to the American food supply.

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