History, Ethics, and Law

How do the historical relationships between science, industry, and government impact contemporary policy? How have social, political, and ideological forces influenced the resolution of ethical and legal concerns in the public health sphere? 

Experts in public health history, ethics, and law offer a necessary perspective that complements and informs research, policy, and planning. The History, Ethics, and Law Certificate will provide MPH students from different disciplines with a historical framework for thinking about central issues in contemporary public health policy. It will also provide them with an understanding of the ways in which the social, cultural, and political context shapes ethical and legal challenges in public health and our options for resolving them.

Individuals with this unique background would be prepared to engage in ethical and policy analysis in governmental and nongovernmental organizations. They would be prepared to be called on by think tanks, policy and advocacy groups, foundations, and international organizations to serve on ethics committees and governing bodies.

Admissions Eligibility

History, Ethics, and Law is open to Columbia MPH students in:

Note that given the required classes, the program may be most compatible for students enrolled in Environmental Health Sciences, Epidemiology, Population and Family Health, or Sociomedical Sciences.

The Competencies for this Certificate are as follows:

  1. Analyze historical evolution of public health thought and practice in the 19th and 20th Century
  2. Assess the role of corporate behavior in shaping environmental and occupational disease.
  3. Justify the fundamental role of autonomy, justice and paternalism in contemporary public health policy
  4. Assess the ways that social factors such as race, class and gender have affected and continue to affect the application of coercive and persuasive public health approaches
  5. Analyze key political and legal developments in the history of public health coercion and persuasion

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Ethics of Public Health

Public health policy is always the product of controversy. Most typically such conflicts are played out in terms of a clash among scientific considerations. But even when not explicit, the controversies entail political tensions and ethical concerns. In this course we will examine the political and ethical dimensions of public health policy, focusing on issues of justice and liberty. Four domains of public health will be examined: the prevention of diseases associated with personal behavior, protection against occupational hazard, epidemic control, and access to health care.

The Global Politics of Aging: Historical & Policy Perspectives

While it is no secret that the developed world has been rapidly aging for some time now, it is the onset of aging in developing countries that makes the challenge of aging populations a global and pervasive process. What does this unique demographic shift imply for societies? How are anxieties regarding population aging shaped by historical experiences, socio-cultural norms and politics across settings? This course will examine the ideas and agenda that have shaped discussions around global aging. We will explore current anxieties regarding global population aging and fears for the future as being anchored in past ideas, actors and policies relating to international health and development. The course analyzes contemporary issues in population aging - such as the role of the state, maintenance of parents, intergenerational ties, retirement, and volunteering - as being shaped by the politics of race, class, gender and religious identity. Aging, as a category and as a 'problem' will be analyzed as being shaped not only by demographic thresholds but by power relations between developed and developing countries that date back to colonial legacies, population policies and to present day forces of globalization. This course will adopt an international and comparative perspective and explore the critical challenges posed to comprehensive and equitable approaches to old age and aging populations.

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