Public Health Ethics 6 (3):pht030 (2013)

This article sketches how liberal principles can be coherently set alongside the stewardship responsibilities of regulators. It indicates how this bears on the legitimacy of public health interventions in general and interventions of the kind associated with New York City’s public health programme in particular. The key idea is that stewardship responsibilities relate to the essential infrastructural conditions for human well-being; these conditions need to be protected because they are the staging for all human activity. Liberal principles, by contrast, presuppose that the basic conditions for human well-being are in place; and, given this presupposition, they present a view about how humans should live, about how they should interact and transact and about how they should flourish. Where regulators are guided by a liberal ethic, they act illegitimately if they try to dictate how individuals should lead their lives; but, acting under their stewardship jurisdiction, regulators may legitimately intervene if they are trying to protect the conditions that are essential for any kind of human life. The article concludes by suggesting that while it is a good thing that New York City’s policies provoke debate about the legitimacy of public health interventions, it is the infrastructural conditions, and not the superstructural activities, that are the regulatory priority
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DOI 10.1093/phe/pht030
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