Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

How far should health laws go?

health lawsHow far should medical scientists and the work they do inform the way in which we govern people’s lives?

The government frequently announces new public health measures, or changes in law which are based on literally hundreds of scientific research studies. We have laws governing smoking in public places, and guidance on how companies can advertise and package fatty and sugary foods, particularly those intended for children. As a result of these, many doctors hope that we will see significant falls in the number of people suffering from illnesses related to smoking, obesity and poor diets.

While many health experts fear that the measures don’t go far enough, other people resent the fact that scientists and government seem to be intruding on their lives. They feel that they should have the freedom to make their choices about, for instance, where they smoke. At the same time, the food and drink industry argue that government shouldn’t interfere in their commercial practices.

However, people’s decisions rarely affect just themselves. While someone who smokes in a restaurant might think she is just making her own personal choice, her fumes will also affect the enjoyment and health of everyone else there. And when, as a result of fatty foods, people’s health problems become serious, it is the health services, which we all contribute to, that bear the costs.

These public health debates around individual liberty and social responsibility will be with us for a long time. Whatever governments decide, it is important that medical researchers continue to provide them with the best possible evidence to inform their policies, even if not everyone will agree with them.

Related links