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“Social justice” is central to the vocabulary of public health and is considered by many scholars to be foundational to the ethics of public health practice. For instance, the Public Health Agency of Canada includes “a commitment to social justice” as an important value in its document on the Core Competencies for Public Health in Canada.1 Yet, it is often unclear as to what a commitment to social justice requires in the context of public health and how this ought to translate into policy, practice, and research. This is troubling; as it is unlikely that “social justice” has a single (or simple) interpretation or application given its rich and diverse pedigree in moral and political philosophy. It is also largely uncertain the degree to which social justice requires anything distinct from other values in public health, such as health equity.2
If social justice is intended to serve as a core value for public health, then its features ought to be critically explored and understood so that it may provide robust, consistent, and practicable ethical guidance for public health policy, practice, and research. This presentation outlines the extent of this ethical issue and reports findings from a qualitative study that sought to understand how social justice is conceptualized and negotiated in practice by public health policy-makers and decision-makers.
1. Public Health Agency of Canada. 2007. Core Competencies for Public Health in Canada: Release 1.0.
2. Smith, M.J. 2014. Health Equity in Public Health: Clarifying our Commitment. Public Health Ethics, doi: 10.1093/phe/phu042.
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Presenter: Maxwell J. Smith
Maxwell J. Smith is a doctoral candidate in Social and Behavioural Health Sciences (Dalla Lana School of Public Health) and Bioethics (Joint Centre for Bioethics) at the University of Toronto. Incorporating social science research methods with philosophical analysis and argumentation, Max’s research addresses complex ethical questions and issues in public health policy and practice. In particular, his research interests focus on the philosophical and empirical foundations of health equity and social justice in public health.
Max received an honours bachelor of arts in philosophy from the University of Toronto and a master of science in bioethics from Union Graduate College and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He is currently a CIHR Fellow in Public Health Policy, a research associate at the Munk School of Global Affairs, and a Junior Fellow at Massey College. Max currently holds a CIHR Frederick Banting and Charles Best Canada Graduate Scholarship and the CIHR Douglas Kinsella Doctoral Award for Research in Bioethics.
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