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Person holding a mobile phone with the screen displaying a Covid-19 app.

Medical and policy developments over the past few years–practices like mass viral testing, COVID-19 vaccination, widespread lockdowns and quarantine regulations–raise important questions about the meaning and ethics of coercion in public health. But many of those questions remain unanswered. For example, what exactly is coercion in public health practice and how does it vary in social understanding, experience, and legitimacy? What is the relationship between coercion and care? And when, if ever, are coercive public health policies ethically acceptable?

This project consists of a workshop on coercion in public health, and a network launched through the workshop and associated journal special issue collaborations. Through the course of collaborating on papers, discussing the issues with coercion during the workshop, and the potential for further network engagement, researchers will work toward an understanding of when, how, and if coercive public health policies are ever ethically justified.

Specifically, the workshop will explore ethical, social, historical and anthropological perspectives on how coercion features in (or as a result of) public health policies. We will focus particularly on policy responses to infectious disease outbreaks.

Through a series of panel sessions accompanied by discussion time, we will move from defining coercion and related terms, through to understanding their use in ethics and policy discourse, examining historical and contemporary examples in public health policy contexts, and collectively formulating a position on ethically acceptable coercion in policy responses to infectious disease outbreaks.

The workshop will not only stimulate outputs through a journal special issue on this topic, but will also initiate a sustainable, international and multidisciplinary network of researchers interested in coercion in the public health policy context, to facilitate further collaborations.

Project Team

Photo credit: Cory Checketts on Unsplash