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Multidisciplinary Conference, Oxford, 23 and 24 Oct 2023: On the need for a Humanities-based approach to public health policy.

This conference explored two distinct but related issues in public health. One is the extent to which individual freedom could be restricted in the pursuit of public health goals. The other is whose freedom could be restricted. That is, freedom and fairness in public health policy.

The tension between freedom and public goods pervades our lives. Public goods such as functioning healthcare systems or environmental resources depend on actions we collectively take. Collective actions raise issues about whether and how each of us ought to contribute to them by giving up some of our own personal interests. Pandemic policies simply made that tension more salient. However, our living together is a constant negotiation of the boundaries between us as individuals and us as members of communities, often (but not necessarily) through the mediation of Governmental restrictions.

Public goods cost freedom or, if you prefer, freedoms can erode public goods.

This tension manifests itself increasingly more often with regard to health. As ‘public health’ becomes institutionalized as an explicit goal of various organizations and Governments, more freedom restricting measures are introduced in the name of it. Environmental policies restricting freedom of movement and the smoking ban recently announced in the UK provide the two clearest examples in the past few months.

Read the full story on the conference on the TORCH website. 

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