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Course Listing


Public Health Law Seminar (3 cr)
LAW 862
This course deals with the law which empowers, tailors and limits federal, state and local governmental efforts to enhance and protect the health of the general population. It will make use of case studies of government educational and regulatory efforts in several areas of historic and very current controversy to examine issues which commonly arise with that law.

The course will introduce students to the constitutional foundations and limits on the essential power of national, state and local governments and their officials to protect the health of individuals in areas where such protection may conflict with other important rights, such as with abortion, ‘immoral’ behavior, religious practices and beliefs, and with seat belts, ferrets and fluoridation.

It will examine the use of peculiarly public-health-protective techniques such as quarantine and other liberty-restricting methods in the context of traditional diseases such as tuberculosis, newer diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and more recent threats of pandemic (including the H1N1 flu) and biological terrorism. Recognizing the public health system’s needs for accurate information in fashioning government responses and programs, the course will look at the law related to public health ‘surveillance’ – the law about the effective collection and maintenance of information and its use in biomedical research. In examining case studies about contagious diseases, environmentally-related cancers and DNA-banking, students will be exposed to tensions between the public health system’s need for information and the privacy rights of individuals about whom such information is gathered.

In the context of government efforts – and private individuals’ efforts – to regulate tobacco use/smoking, the course will look at the special problems inherent in the regulation of health-harming activities which the government is unwilling to bad outright. Those include problems in regulating advertising and other forms of communication by business actors, in litigation by injured persons and in ‘regulation’ by private entities such as employers. Likewise, the course will consider the special problems which arise when the law seeks to encourage healthier behaviors, exploring case studies of efforts to affect drug abuse and obesity. It will inspect the appropriateness of and problems with criminalization, regulation and education as legal responses to these public health problems.

The course will conclude with scrutiny of possible public health responses to existing difficulties linked to the possession and use of guns and to future problems linked to the threat of bioterrorism. It will use the gun cases to focus on how the law determines the proper remedial steps to respond to a non-traditional threat to public health. It will explore planned responses to bioterrorism to enable students to focus on the law of “public health preparedness” and to explore the significance of global threats to domestic public health along with the significance of international actors in enhancing/protecting public health both in the U.S. and elsewhere.

This course is expected to be open to law students and graduate students in SUNY Upstate’s medical school and its Master’s in Public Health joint program with S.U. It will attempt to blend in experiential learning by linking students to public health work being done locally and in New York State.

This course should be useful for law students who anticipate doing work directly (or indirectly as a lawyer with a firm which works) with governments, schools, hospitals and health-care providers, the military and insurers, among many others. It should be useful for non-lawyers who anticipate working with or for any such entities or who anticipate planning or doing research in areas linked to public health, either domestically or internationally.

Taught By:
Peter Bell