The next session of the public health ethics working group takes place on May 22, at 8 -9:15 pm (20:00 - 21:15) CET (German/Berlin time) via Zoom.
Our speaker is Dr. Peter West-Oram, Chair of the Research Governance and Ethics Committee at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He will speak on the topic of „Public health and the role of unconventional solidarity groups“.
This talk is part of the series in which we try to understand and discuss the role of public health ethics (in academia/policy/practice/public) in different contexts. One aim is to mutually learn and to be inspired for our own work in our respective countries.
If you would like to join the meeting, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive the Zoom-invitation.
Public health and the role of unconventional solidarity groups
Dr. Peter West-Oram
22nd May 2023
The health care systems of most wealthy countries are paradigm examples of national solidarity groups, in that the costs of providing care are shared by group members, in recognition of their similarities with one another. Similarly, public health programmes typically rely on solidaristic engagement by programme beneficiaries. We pay taxes to fund sanitation, participate in vaccination programmes to reduce the risks associated with certain diseases, and wear masks and social distance to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory pathogens.
While there are many definitions of solidarity, most agree that solidarity groups are defined by the similarities between members which motivate them to support, and cooperate with, their fellows. In this context, solidarity is typically seen as a pro-social force, and to be closely connected to the process of delivering justice. Historically, relatively stable, deeply ingrained features of persons, such as religion or nationality, have been seen as the primary sources of such similarity which have enabled solidarity between compatriots or co-religionists, enabling the delivery of goods like health care and public health systems.
Recently however, it has been noted that more transient features of persons may also serve as the basis for solidarity. Globalisation has provided opportunities for novel solidarities to emerge, by enabling meaningful social, cultural, and recreational relationships between people who may be separated by great distances, and who have never met in person. Such relationships may be deep and lasting, or shallow and transient, but both types may transcend national, regional, or religious boundaries. Simultaneously however, the twenty-first century has also seen the startling re-emergence and rise to prominence of nationalist, populist groups.
In this paper I argue that while solidarity has often been seen as a pro-social endeavour, it must be recognised that solidarity is itself morally neutral. In challenging this pro-social assumption, I outline a taxonomy of types of solidarity group, and explain how different types of solidarity group differ from, relate to, and interact with one another, and the consequences that this can have for public health.