December 2007

Grant Results


Investigators at the University of Virginia School of Law, the School of Medicine and the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life created a fellowship program and a problem-based curriculum on public health law and ethics for law students and Master of Public Health (MPH) candidates.

Key Results
The project team:

  • Worked with personnel at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a fellowship program on public health law and ethics.
  • Prepared teaching materials for a course directed at a combined audience of law and MPH students.
  • Delivered the course, through seminars and full-semester courses, to 120 University of Virginia students during the RWJF grant period.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported the project with a $50,000 unsolicited grant from August 2003 through July 2006 to the University of Virginia Law School Foundation.

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RWJF's Public Health Team is developing an agenda to build public health law capacities. This project, although funded before this agenda began to take shape, was a precursor to it. Other funding in this area has included three conferences and a study:

  • 2001: From Tobacco Use to Infectious Disease, Experts Study Role of Law in Public Health. See Grant Results on ID# 042096.
  • 2002 Conference Focuses on Strengthening the Use of Law as a Foundation of Public Health Practice. See Grant Results on ID# 044018.
  • 2003 Conference Examines Where Health Issues Intersect the Law. See Grant Results on ID# 048281.
  • State Statutes Could Slow Down Public Health Agency Response to New Challenges. See Grant Results on ID# 027515.

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Increasingly, public health concerns such as violence, homelessness and workforce health and safety require significant understanding of the legal and ethical issues that affect public health practices. Teaching materials that address current public health issues and their legal and ethical ramifications were limited at the time of this grant.

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Investigators at the University of Virginia created problem-based teaching materials on public health law and ethics for combined audiences of law students and MPH students. They also established a fellowship program for this field of study in collaboration with the Public Health Law Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


The investigators faced two major challenges:

  • They had difficulty recruiting mid-career personnel for the fellowships — a result that the project director attributed to the lack of a strong marketing effort and a track record for the fellowship program. In response, they offered the fellowship to MPH candidates and law students at the University of Virginia.
  • They found it difficult to make the course materials comprehensive and accessible to both law and public health students. For some topics, such as the workings of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, law students dominated the discussion. In other discussions, such as chronic disease management, the public health students dominated.

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Key results of the project include the following:

  • The investigators recruited five University of Virginia students to the fellowship program. Two were joint J.D./M.P.H. candidates, and three were law students interested in public health law.
  • Two fellows worked with senior lawyers and administrators at the CDC to identify and address the ethical dimensions of public health laws, policies and practices. Three fellows worked with the University of Virginia investigators to create the course materials.
  • Once the course was developed, it was completed by 120 University of Virginia law students and MPH candidates during the RWJF grant period.
  • The investigators also began to develop a textbook.

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The investigators planned to offer the course twice during the 2007–2008 academic year. Richard J. Bonnie, the project director, characterized the course as "experimental and a work in progress." The project team may consider offering the course to a combined audience of master's candidates in public health and public health policy. Work continues on the course textbook.

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Developing Teaching Materials on Public Health Law for Schools of Law, Public Health and Public Policy


University of Virginia Law School Foundation (Charlottesville,  VA)

  • Amount: $ 50,000
    Dates: August 2003 to July 2006
    ID#:  048946


Richard J. Bonnie
(434) 924-3209

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(Current as of date of this report; as provided by grantee organization; not verified by RWJF; items not available from RWJF.)


Bonnie RJ and Bernheim RG. Germs, Guns and Lead: Public Health Law, Ethics and Policy. Unpublished topical outline, subject to change.

Audio-Visuals and Computer Software

Introduction to Public Health Ethics. PowerPoint presentation by University of Virginia Fellow and J.D./M.P.H. candidate Michael Smith. Atlanta: Public Health Law Program, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July 29, 2005.

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Report prepared by: Nina Berlin
Reviewed by: Richard Camer
Reviewed by: Molly McKaughan
Program Officer: Pamela G. Russo