The law and the public's health: A study of infectious disease law in the United States

Lawrence O. Gostin, Scott Burris, Zita Lazzarini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Law plays crucial roles in the field of public health, from defining the power and jurisdiction of health agencies, to influencing the social norms that shape individual behavior. Despite its importance, public health law has been neglected. Over a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine issued a report lamenting the state of public health adminstration, generally, and calling, in particular, for a revision of public health statutes. The Article examines the current state of public health law. To help create the conditions in which people can be healthy, public health law must reflect an understanding of how public health agencies work to promote health, as well as the political and social contexts in which these agencies operate. The authors first discuss three prevailing ways in which the determinants of health are conceptualized, and the political and social problems each model tends to create for public health efforts. The analysis then turns to the core functions of public health, emphasizing how law furthers public health work. The Article reports the results of a fifty-state survey of communicable disease control law, revealing that few states have systematically reformed their laws to reflect contemporary medical and legal developments. The Article concludes with specific guidelines for law reform.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Number of pages1
JournalColumbia Law Review
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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