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ASPPH News

HHS Meeting Considers Whether to Create a Permanent “Office of Public Health Ethics”

Representatives of offices within the Department of Health and Human Services held a stakeholder meeting on November 18 to discuss a proposal to create a permanent “Office of Public Health Ethics” within HHS. Various presidents have created bioethics commissions over the past 40 years, each of which has sunset at the end of the creator’s Administration. The current U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, created by President Obama, is preparing to close on January 20. The presidential commissions have traditionally been staffed by HHS.

In an article published in Public Health Reports in May 2015 Dr. Lisa Lee, executive director of the current Commission, recommended creating a permanent Office of Public Health Ethics within HHS. The meeting on November 18 was designed to discuss the proposal. It was led by Dr. Jewel Mullen of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary of Health.

Mr. Tony Mazzaschi, ASPPH senior director for policy and research, was asked to speak at the meeting. He shared the CEPH accreditation standards’ language regarding competencies on ethics and evidence. He also shared data from the recent job task analysis completed by the National Board of Public Health Examiners. In the analysis, ethics was the third highest rated domain identified by respondents.

In his remarks, Mr. Mazzaschi said that given that the federal government is a major funder of academic public health and a major employer of our graduates (either directly or indirectly), the ongoing engagement of the federal government in fostering and advancing ethical conversations and issues is appropriate.

He added that the emerging challenges related to global health security and the role of various sectors in advancing population health are raising issues that are relevant to today’s students and graduates and considered of paramount importance to those public health professionals already in practice.

Mr. Mazzaschi concluded that the ongoing engagement of HHS in examining ethical issues, offering ethical frameworks for the public and public health community to consider, and providing evidence that can be used to inform ethical discussions and decision making has been and remains essential.