Thomas et al. define public health as what society does collectively to ensure that conditions exist for people to be healthy. They continue to state that the key relationship in most ethical decisions in public ethics is the relationship between the government agency (such as the local health department and the community it serves.
Genomics is defined as the study of functions and interactions of all the genes in the genome including their interactions with environmental factors. The field involves large data sets and high throughput methods of data analysis.
The rapid development of new genomic technology [ex. genome sequencing and gene therapy] has led to the emergence of a host of ethical issues in the public health sphere.
In a 2002 publication the American Public Health Association outlined 12 ethical principles that should be the basis of public health in America. This website will highlight new issues brought about by new genomic technology with respect to each of these 12 principles. The principles are as follows:
1. Public health should address principally the fundamental causes of disease and requirements for health aiming to prevent adverse health outcomes
2. Public Health should achieve community health in a way that respects the rights of the individuals of the community
3. Public health polices, programs and priorities should be developed and evaluated through processes that ensure an opportunity for input from community members
4. Public health should advocate or work for the empowerment of disenfranchised community members, ensuring that the basic resources and conditions necessary for health are accessible to all people in the community
5. Public health should seek the information needed to implement effective policies and programs that protect and promote health
6. Public health institutions should provide communities with the information they have that is needed for decisions on policies or programs and obtain consent for their implementation
7. Public health institutions should act in a timely manner on the information they have within the resources and the mandate given to them by the public
8. Public health programs and policies should incorporate a variety of approaches that anticipate and respect diverse values, beliefs and cultures in the community
9. Public health programs and policies should be implemented in a manner that most enhances the physical and social environment
10. Public health institutions should protect the confidentiality of the information that can bring harm to the individual or community if made public. Exceptions must be justified on the basis of high likelihood of significant harm to the individual or others
11. Public health institutions should ensure the professional competence of their employees
12. Public health institutions and their employees should engage in collaborations and affiliations that build public trust and the effectiveness of the institution