Introduction to Public Health Ethics (BETH5206)


BETH5206 Ethics and Public Health introduces you to a range of ethical issues that arise within the practice of public health. It begins with an orientation to the field: we will discuss conceptualisations of public health, what ethics is, and how ethics relates to evidence. We will talk about the origins and development of public health ethics as a (relatively new) field, and how it is distinguished from other areas of ethics. Your learning will then be structured around three sets of important concepts. The first are concepts central to utilitarian reasoning: benefit, harm and cost. The second cluster of concepts relates to the proper relationship between the citizen and the state (including public health as an institution): they are autonomy, liberty and paternalism. The third cluster includes fairness, justice and equity, concepts that are often used rhetorically in public health, but not always carried through into practice. We will focus on two main case studies to apply what you learn. Throughout this unit you will be encouraged to ask questions, and to compare and debate competing answers to those questions. What is public health? What does it mean to say that something is harmful? To what extent should we each be free to engage in practices that harm our health? What is the proper role of the state in attempting to change the health of populations? What is equity and why does it matter (and if it matters, why aren't we doing more about it)? This is a Core Unit for Graduate Diploma and Master in Public Health students. Most learning occurs in the context of two teaching intensives, which are highly interactive and focus on the development and application of reasoning skills.

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Further unit of study information


2x7hour intensives; or Distance Education (online)


2xOnline Quiz (40%); 1x1500wd essay (60%)


Students are provided with a list of readings (in digital format). Most supplementary readings can be accessed through the library or online.

Faculty/department permission required?


Unit of study rules



Additional Information

Students enrolled in the Graduate Diploma or Master of Public Health may choose to take BETH5203 (6CP) instead of BETH5206 (2CP).

Study this unit outside a degree

Non-award/non-degree study

If you wish to undertake one or more units of study (subjects) for your own interest but not towards a degree, you may enrol in single units as a non-award student.

Cross-institutional study

If you are from another Australian tertiary institution you may be permitted to underake cross-institutional study in one or more units of study at the University of Sydney.