We live in a world where almost all areas of life are organized according to the logic of profit. The way of giving birth is less and less often a medical but a decision of profit making. Elderly people who are dependent on care wait more than an hour to get a new diaper, because there are not enough nurses being paid. Pharmaceutical companies advertise opioid, without educating about the risks, leaving millions of patients battling with addiction. Examples like these illustrating a social system that favors profit without ethical considerations are vast. Do you think this is acceptable?
When it comes to health in our globalised world ethics and neoliberal logic do often oppose one another. As a Harris Poll study released in January 2017 demonstrates, people are well aware of this paradox. Only nine percent of U.S. consumers believe pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put patients over profits and only 16 percent believe health insurance companies do so. We can easily extend this to corporates in the food, water or Tobacco sector, which have great impact on health as well. The narrative that people are constantly exposed to however tells us that society is profiting from the profits of the companies. It tells us that "economism-inspired policies seem both commonsensical and inevitable" (Howard, 2014). There is a need to discuss and reflect upon these narratives, because when it becomes obvious that people’s basic needs and company bottom lines oppose one another, we must decide what is more important to us: health or profit?
Ethics is a branch of philosophy that deals with the moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity. Thus, it can help us make decisions. Ethic Boards give advice to institutions, states and hospitals. But what is ethical acting? And even if we think of ethics as a standard for measuring our actions, it is not a stable concept. Benefit and harm of a single action can be interpreted very differently depending on one’s values or philosophical framework. Also, the world around us, our own history, and socialization influence our perception/interpretation of ethics.
In the medical and public health field we are often faced with situations where an ethical mindset may lead us to difficult dilemmas. When poverty leads to shorter and unhealthier lives, socioeconomic inequality becomes an ethical debate. Closing down a company that harms public health through environmental pollution must be weighed in capitalism against the jobs that would be lost and thus the worker's impoverishment or loss of health insurance. And as health workers it is getting more and more difficult to act in ethical ways as hospitals and other health institutions face the same economic pressures. Can there be an ethical limit of how much economization is possible? Or can ethics even lead us to a radical system change?
This year's summer school explores the mechanisms of globalisation, inequality and health. We want to discuss in which ways ethics can help us to work as health professionals and political activists for the health of all. Participants from various countries are welcome to enter a dialogue with professionals from diverse backgrounds in order to highlight problems and discuss potential solutions.
During the week we will learn about the socioeconomic determinants of health, the basics of ethics in the medical and public health field and the role of the neoliberal economy in a globalised world and its effects on health. We will shed light on historical and current fights between peoples’ health and corporate interest. Most importantly we will address and discuss possible solutions, looking at examples of „best practices“ in the health sector and will ask (and maybe answer) how we as citizens and members of the health community can have a positive impact.