HEAL UoS

HEAL teaching outside the Law School

In 2014, Public Ethics, Teaching on March 17, 2014 at 8:34 am

There’s been lots going on in HEAL over the last couple of weeks, with various research papers being presented on campus, development of a HEAL consultation response regarding organ donation after brain death, and A.M. Viens jetting off to Copenhagen where he was co-organsing a conference on Public Health Ethics. Further to all this, and of course the regular path of the academic treadmill, I recently taught at the medical school to students on the MSc in Public Health Nutrition. It’s always interesting to deliver teaching outside of the familiar disciplinary frame. For this class, I was charged with introducing ideas about public health ethics, law, and governance. This means bringing a philosophical focus that places many of the students on the course outside of their academic comfort zones.

Such a foray into ‘alien’ literatures and methods means that the teaching raises distinctive challenges both for the tutor and the students. A complexity for the students in this context comes in the open nature of many of the questions asked when bringing philosophical approaches to the curriculum. In particular, this strikingly relates to questions concerning the very meanings of public health practice, and public health ethics. For example, I got very interesting and mixed answers on whether or not I, or Penny Nestel who runs the course, can be said to work in public health.

The productivity in exploring such questions doesn’t arise in reaching the ‘right’ answer. Rather, it’s about the critical self-reflection and questioning that they trigger in the students. People who study on courses such as our MSc are motivated to work in health promotion; they are committed to what Larry Gostin characterises as an article of faith in the great importance of health. My purpose in bringing a philosophical analysis to the education is not to lessen that faith, but to invite the students to scrutinise the strength and substance of its foundations.

I find the reward of this sort of teaching really comes out in the small- and whole-group discussions. A vast range of interesting ideas and questions were raised at the recent session. I’m looking forward to starting teaching the full, ten-week course on Public Health, Law, and Ethics with A.M. Viens later this year on the MSc in public health. We’ll be able there to explore philosophy and public health in a much more sustained, and deeply engaged, way.

John Coggon

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