Promotion for ethics group in the American Public Health Association

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The Ethics Special Primary Interest Group (SPIG) of the American Public Health Association (APHA) is slated to become to an official section of the organization in July. While this may appear to be merely a structural change within an organization, the promotion of the ethics group of APHA has wider implications for the discipline.

“The transition from a SPIG to a formal Section will position public health ethics as a full participant at the multidisciplinary table,” explained Lisa Lee, Ph.D., M.S., chair of the Ethics SPIG and Executive Director of the President Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.  “Our primary aim is to integrate ethical decision making into the fabric of public health practice so ethics is viewed as and becomes a facilitator of great work rather than an obstacle.”

This means that members of the Ethics Section (as well as APHA at-large) will see changes as the new section will formalize their representation on leadership committees, expands their collaboration with other component units, and increases the visibility of public health ethics through being allotted additional sessions at the annual meeting to accommodate the competitive ethics abstract pool.  Additionally, there will now be resources for the Ethics Section to engage students, create section awards, and sponsor featured talks.

“The Ethics (soon-to-be) Section is a diverse, dynamic group of public health professionals whose aim is to inform and engage APHA and the larger public health community about the assets we have to offer to support ethical public health research, policy, and practice at all levels,” Dr. Lee explained. “Our members come from all other APHA component units and we envision success in infusing ethics across the public health spectrum so ultimately it is less a ‘stand-alone’ topic and more ‘the way we do business.’”

According to Dr. Lee, a great deal of preparation goes into creating a section: “Rightfully so, APHA must ensure that each component unit as the membership interest and leadership to actively participate in both the Section as well as APHA at large. Previous Ethics SPIG leadership—including Edward Strickler, Sean Philpott, Jennifer Prah Ruger, Kathy Powderly, Marc Hiller, and Bruce Jennings—laid the groundwork for a strong application for Section status. In addition, our SPIG membership has been extremely engaged with each other and APHA generally; these are important aspects of our application.”

The application process for being a section within APHA starts with a letter to the organization from the SPIG expressing interest in applying for Section status. The application then required the Ethics SPIG to quantify their engagement, membership and leadership. After various internal APHA reviews, the Inter-Sectional Council will vote on the Ethics SPIG’s status. Dr. Lee hopes to hear the result of their vote in July.

Prior to application for section status, the Ethics SPIG had to assemble a leadership team. “We had a very robust response to our call for volunteers,” Dr. Lee said. “We hope to harness this enthusiasm as we begin our initial tasks of strategic planning an Section goal-setting.”

Dr. Lee indicated that the future Ethics Section is eager to engage public health students from all areas of study, and will make this an early area of focus. She also plans to have the Ethics Section serve the public health community by acting as a convener and resource for public health ethics educational activities.

“We are limited only by our members’ enthusiasm and commitment, so I see many great things coming,” she added.


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