Other Branches of Science Are Necessary to Form a Lawyer:
Teaching Public Health Law in Law School
Richard A. Goodman, et. al.
excerpted from: Richard A. Goodman, Zita Lazzarini, Anthony D. Moulton, Scott Burris, Nanette R. Elster, Paul
A. Locke, Lawrence O. Gostin , Other Branches of Science Are Necessary to Form a Lawyer:
Teaching Public Health Law in Law School, 30 Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics 298
Other branches of science, and especially history, are necessary to form a lawyer.
Over two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson suggested the need for a broader legal
curriculum. As the twenty-first century begins, the practice of law will increasingly demand
interdisciplinary knowledge and collaboration -- between those trained in law and a broad range
of scientific and technical fields, including engineering, biology, genetics, ethics, and the social
sciences. The practice of public health law provides a model for both the substantive integration
of law with science, and for the way its practitioners work. In addition, public health law also
provides a model for interdisciplinary and integrative teaching.
This commentary provides a rationale for a policy that every U.S. law school offer course
options on law and public health. Adherents to this position might even view public health law as
so fundamental a subject that it be considered a "foundational" body, akin to, for example, tort,
contract, constitutional, and criminal law. The tight intertwining of public health issues with
existing core courses surely suggests no less a role for public health law than as a unifying,
syncretic theme for law school education. Indeed, the companion commentary by Parmet and
Robbins in this same issue of the Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics more fully argues that public
health provides a set of skills and perspectives that should be introduced to all law students as
they examine critical cases in core law school subjects.
The case for including courses on public health law in the law school curriculum has deep roots
which derive from a combination of trends in legal education, public health and health-care
practice, and federal, state, and local government law. Foremost, and also as noted by Parmet and
Robbins, the law and several foundational subjects in legal education increasingly intersect
with the domains of public health and health law. For example, tort law broadly encompasses the
interests and issues of the public health field in injury control, including the categories of
intentional and unintentional injuries. Similarly, criminal law, in part, overlaps with injury issues by
addressing the punishment and deterrence of not only intentional injuries, but, increasingly, the
challenge of personal behaviors representing other serious health risks. The law of contracts now
embodies issues of public health program management in a managed care legal framework, while
property law has become a medium through which public health law can be applied to assure
healthy and safe communities by way of zoning, nuisance abatement, and environmental law,
among other means. Administrative law, a required course in some law schools, often deals with
regulatory questions directly concerned with the population's health.
In addition to the evolving relations between public health law and tort, criminal, and contract
law, many of the most compelling questions in modern public health law and practice involve
constitutional issues that define the scope of state and federal power to protect the public's health.
Nearly 100 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, broadly endorsed
the state's police power to include most reasonable acts taken by the legislature to combat disease,
including mandatory vaccination. Since then, through a number of key cases, the Court has
periodically addressed the public health paradigm, seeking to balance the *299 state's interest in
the common goodwith the rights and liberties of the individual. The Court's efforts have included
development of the doctrines of substantive and procedural due process in the areas of mental
health and public health and the articulation of an individual's right to refuse medical treatment in
the context of modern medicine.
In recent years, the federal courts have used "states rights," the long dormant Tenth
Amendment, and the takings doctrine to significantly circumscribe what federal public health
officials can mandate. Events continuing to unfold since September 11 may further reshape the
contours of this paradigm. The emergent threats of biological and chemical terrorism intersect
with constitutional law and its fundamental concerns with due process and other safeguards
against infringement of personal liberties.
Public health law can play a valuable integrative function across the foundational subjects in at
least four other ways. First, the interests and goals of public health law mesh with the basic
social/legal theory that one primary role of government is to assure the health of the community's
citizens -- otherwise there can be no community.
Second, the laws of public health and community safety are more than simply the embodiment of
a state's police power -- they also compose a common thread that connects local, state, and
federal governments. One implication of this proposition is that course work in public health law
is highly relevant for those students pursuing careers in both health policy and government
because the issues of public health policy embody the interactions between local, state, and federal
Third, public health law provides a unique opportunity for integrative teaching: Because public
health is so intertwined with the police power and other fundamental legal principles, public health
law can be used to teach the basic tenets of constitutional law -- especially procedural and
substantive due process, and the tension between individual rights and social well-being.
Finally, the focus in public health law on the importance of the community's health and welfare,
including that of marginalized populations, could provide an opportunity to expand the public
service commitment and raise the social consciousness of law students and future lawyers. The
education and training of medical students emphasize that they incur some debt to society in the
process of learning their profession. Perhaps through examples of the role of law and lawyers in
protecting both the health and rights of the population, law students could also be encouraged to
include public service in their professional role.