Ethical Issues with Health Promotion

623 words | 3 page(s)

Despite the controversy around health promotion, it plays an important role in the modern public health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), wellbeing promotion refers to a process that enables people to improve their health (Gardner, 2014). In society, this is visible in governments in influencing people to wear seat belts while driving or to practice safe sex. Through prompting people to live healthy lives, their lifestyles are also influenced, which sparks various ethical arguments. The focus of the paper is the specific methods used to influence people to make various health choices.

Gardner explores the means through which public promotion is achieved. He gives several methods for intervening in the people’s choices: They include educating people, persuading them, construction of new norms, shaping existing norms, manipulating preferences, and coercion (Gardner, 2014). The listed strategies often focus on very specific lifestyle preferences like reducing smoking. Persuasion is the most commonly used strategy for public health (Gardner, 2014). It involves changing peoples’ beliefs through appealing to their rational capacity. This intervention has little ethical implications except in face-to-face encounters with individuals of perceived power and status. In such a case, Gardner argues that there is an imposition of restrictions on an individual for their own good. Manipulation, on the other hand, involves altering the perception of people on certain matters. This strategy is used in marketing to make people buy things they did not want in the first place (Gardner, 2014). When used in public health to sell healthy behavior, it is called social marketing. Most campaigns employ a mixture of both persuasion and manipulation. Coercion utilizes power to get what a person wants. This approach is usually problematic and governments use it as sparingly as possible. It raises the highest amount of ethical issues of the three. Therefore, there are three main methods of achieving health promotion, and each has its unique controversy.

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Personally, I think all of the three methods are right in their use. Persuasion is often difficult but healthcare professionals have a certain status and power, which corners people into doing what they suggest. Thus, individuals in this position must understand the weight their recommendations carry and use them responsibly by appealing to the patient’s reason to enable them to make informed consents per the medical code of ethics. Manipulation and deception is sometimes necessary and can be used according to the health belief model. There are minimal ethical related issues with social marketing (Gardner, 2014). After all, as a medical professional, you have a role in protecting and promoting the health of the public according to the code of ethics. In practice, coercion needs to have prior consent from the patient to avoid ethical problems, as medical code requires the professional to safeguard their autonomy. For instance, people undergoing hypnosis or being committed in mental institutions willingly give physicians the consent to use coercive and manipulative strategies in their treatment. Accordingly, I think that the various ethical issues raises by strategies to promote health can be handled.

Indeed, health promotion is beneficial to the public. However, it generates a lot of controversy. Gardner’s article explores the methods used to achieve the endeavor by both the government and physicians. The strategies employed give rise to varied amounts of ethical problem. The most controversial one is coercion and medical professionals are advised to avoid this method as it directly removes the person’s autonomy. I support this opinion although I think there are valid situations where the doctor has no other option but to employ it. In such cases, I suggest seeking the patient’s consent first to help eliminate many of the ethical issues.

  • Gardner, J. (2014). Ethical issues in public health promotion. South African Journal of Bioethics and Law, 7(1), 30-33. doi:10.7196/SAJBL.268

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