Under-resourced and fragmented public health infrastructure has contributed to a poor pandemic response in the United States. There have been calls to redesign the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to increase its budget. Lawmakers also have introduced bills aiming to change public health emergency powers at the local, state, and federal levels. Public health is ripe for reform, but reorganization and enhanced funding will not address an equally pressing problem: chronic failures of judgment in the definition and implementation of legal interventions. Without a more informed and nuanced appreciation for the value and limits of law as an instrument of health promotion, the public will remain at unnecessary risk.
In this article in AMA Journal of Ethics, Scott Burris and Evan Anderson outline the pandemic-era failures around the use of law for public health and offer recommendations and observations to facilitate a change in the culture and leadership of public health.