This paper is the first in a series of essays developed for the NCCHPP by researchers associated with the Centre de recherche en éthique de l’Université de Montréal (Université de Montréal Research Centre in Ethics) as part of a project to examine ethical issues related to healthy public policy.
The precautionary principle was most explicitly developed by and through environmental risk management policies, and has been used for a number of years in this public policy domain. It can also be useful when public policy decisions need to be made in situations where, based on available scientific knowledge, the very existence of health risks to the population is uncertain. The use of the principle has been the subject of vigorous ethical debate, notably because of it’s tension with the ever-increasing call for emphasis on evidence-based public policies.
In this paper, Ethicist Valérie Beloin addresses the use of the precautionary principle in public health and examines its relevance for this specific sector.