Preface: Connecting Public Health Law, Practice, Policy, and Research

In his preface "Connecting Public Health Law, Practice, Policy and Research," James G. Hodge, Jr., Lincoln Professor of Health Law and Ethics at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University presents highlights from the symposium that was the catalyst for this special issue.

This symposium issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics (JMLE) is devoted to the reconvening of the first national public health law conference since 2006, Using Law, Policy, and Research to Improve the Public's Health, held on September 13-15, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.

This event was conceptualized, organized, and hosted by the American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics (ASLME) and the Public Health Law Association (PHLA) with generous support provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Other collaborators/contributors included the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Public Health Association (APHA), Association of State and Territorial Health Officers (ASTHO), American Bar Association (ABA). The conference brought together premier scholars, leaders and practitioners in public health law, policy, and research to explore critical topics with over 400 participants from varied backgrounds including law, public health, health care, and nursing, among other fields.

Unlike many prior conference symposia published by JLME and others, however, this issue does not attempt to recount or summarize specific sessions at the national public law conference. The objective is not merely to prepare a conference summary report—contributors, comprised of established and emerging scholars and practitioners in the field, offer their own unique legal and policy perspectives on selected topics. Their concise manuscripts go beyond contemporary summaries of key issues at the intersection of law, policy, research, and the public’s health. Rather, the authors present definitive findings and trends in core areas in public health law, policy, and research.

Although significant achievements have been made, the field of public health law has not escalated to where it needs to be for law to have its greatest impact on actual public health outcomes. At times lacking coordination and national direction, public health law remains a fragmented discipline. The field has been mired for decades in quick fixes to public health “crises of the day,” producing varying legislative, regulatory, or judicial solutions to public health problems as they arise. As a result, public health laws in many areas are myriad, overlapping, and inconsistent when compared across jurisdictions.

The overarching vision for this conference was to build the field of public health law by (1) bridging these knowledge gaps across jurisdictions; (2) defining (and proving) the role of law as a primary and practical tool to improve population-based health outcomes; and (3) developing a modern public health law infrastructure for the 21st century.