Ethical healthcare in British Columbia

By Ted Bruce

I read with interest the article in The Tyee by Christine Boyle and Seth Klein entitled Imagining a Moral Economy for British Columbia.

The article laid out the rationale and the potential for us to re-think economic development and base our decisions about the economy on a set of moral principles. The principles they articulate include ecological justice, equality and shared good.  The article resonated with me in part because of the work PHABC has been doing to bring attention to the Corporate Determinants of Health: see the recent commentary in the Canadian Journal of Public Health by PHABC’s Dr. John Millar.

But it also reminded me of the need for a moral foundation for the health care system.

PHABC has called for greater investment within the health care system on upstream prevention and health promotion. Similar to the “moral economy”, a health promoting system would be based on a strong set of ethical principles – those articulated by public health. The core principles of public health concern themselves with questions of equity, social justice and the distribution of health and risk. Public health recognizes that health is situated within the social, political, and economic environment and if the health care system is to be effective it must attend to the relationship between these aspects of society and the individual. In short, improvements in the health of the population and the reduction in health inequities – ostensibly the goals of the health care system – depend upon addressing poverty, racism and inequality.

In fact the current approach to health care, with its focus on treating sick individuals, is nearing collapse under the weight of an unlimited demand for more service and an attempt to respond to this demand primarily by improving efficiency of services geared to these already ill individuals. Many would say that addressing the social determinants of health is not the job of the health care system. But there is an important and under developed role for health care to focus on health promoting factors – to keep people healthy, to address health inequities through targeted programming and to show leadership to encourage and facilitate inter-sectoral actions to address the social determinants of health such as poverty.

It is time we redesigned our health care system based on the ethics or moral foundation underlying public health.

– Ted Bruce is the past-President of the PHABC.

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