We tend to think that trust is important to public health policy and practice. This view is so common that there is little discussion of this assumption and few attempts to justify it. In this paper I seek to explore in some detail some questions that require an answer before we can be convinced that trust does in fact play this role. What exactly is trust? What role ought it play in public health activities? What role ought it play in debates about the nature of public health ethics? Is it valuable for its own sake or for what it helps us achieve? How does it relate to other important values in public health ethics? My intention is not to dismiss trust as being unimportant, but to help put it in its place within public health activities and related ethical debates.
Dr. Angus Dawson is Senior Lecturer in Ethics & Philosophy, at the Centre for Professional Ethics, Keele University, UK. In 2007-2008 he was Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto and then in 2008-2009 Senior Research Fellow at the Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto. His background is in philosophy, but he has specialised in teaching ethics to health care professionals for most of the last fifteen years. His main research interests are in public health ethics (particularly vaccinations and issues related to lifestyle choices) and the use of empirical evidence in moral arguments (particularly in relation to problems in gaining informed consent in clinical trials). He is joint Editor-in-Chief of the journal Public Health Ethics and joint coordinator of the International Association of Bioethics’ Public Health Ethics Network (InterPHEN). He has been involved in research projects funded by the CDC, WHO, European Union and the Public Health Agency of Canada on a range of issues related to public health ethics. He has published seventy papers and is editor or co-editor of four collections of original papers mainly on topics in public health ethics, including (with Marcel Verweij) Prevention, Ethics, & Public Health, OUP (2007) and Dawson, A. (ed.) Public Health Ethics: Key Concepts and Issues in Policy and Practice. Cambridge University Press (in press).