All For One and One For All: Informed Consent and Public Health

Abstract

The concept of informed consent is well established in the field of bioethics, but its application is unclear in the area of public health. The increasing prevalence of public health interventions creates a need to analyze the scope of government power as it relates to individual choice. This Article explores three different types of public health measures in which individual choice has been limited: (1) environmental interventions; (2) classic public health interventions to prevent contagious disease; and (3) public health information reporting or use. The reasons for limiting informed consent vary depending on the context, and the implications for the scope of an exception likewise vary. Careful consideration of the theoretical bases for exceptions indicates the importance of information disclosure in almost all situations, and may lead to novel solutions, such as a ”fair use” model for health information. A singular “public health exception” concept is overly broad and superficial. Instead, there should be a fuller debate about the requirements of informed consent in the wide variety of public health settings.