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Stigma and the ethics of public health: Not can we but should we


  • Bayer, Ronald


In the closing decades of the 20th century, a broadly shared view took hold that the stigmatization of those who were already vulnerable provided the context within which diseases spread, exacerbating morbidity and mortality by erecting barriers between caregivers and those who were sick and by imposing obstacles upon those who would intervene to contain the spread of illness. In this view, it was the responsibility of public health officials to counteract stigma if they were to fulfill their mission to protect the communal health. Furthermore, because stigma imposed unfair burdens on those who were already at social disadvantage, the process of stigmatization implicated the human right to dignity. Hence, to the instrumental reason for seeking to extirpate stigma, was added a moral concern. But is it true that stigmatization always represents a threat to public health? Are there occasions when the mobilization of stigma may effectively reduce the prevalence of behaviors linked to disease and death? And if so, how ought we to think about the human rights issues that are involved?

Suggested Citation

  • Bayer, Ronald, 2008. "Stigma and the ethics of public health: Not can we but should we," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 67(3), pages 463-472, August.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:67:y:2008:i:3:p:463-472

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Alamar, Benjamin & Glantz, Stanton A, 2006. "Effect of increased social unacceptability of cigarette smoking on reduction in cigarette consumption," University of California at San Francisco, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education qt605791kz, Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, UC San Francisco.
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    3. Goldin, Carol S., 1994. "Stigmatization and AIDS: Critical issues in public health," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 39(9), pages 1359-1366, November.
    4. Parker, Richard & Aggleton, Peter, 2003. "HIV and AIDS-related stigma and discrimination: a conceptual framework and implications for action," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 57(1), pages 13-24, July.
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    2. Zhang, J. & Tong, L. & Lamberson, P.J. & Durazo-Arvizu, R.A. & Luke, A. & Shoham, D.A., 2015. "Leveraging social influence to address overweight and obesity using agent-based models: The role of adolescent social networks," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 125(C), pages 203-213.
    3. Ross, Paula Thompson, 2015. "Motivations of women with sickle cell disease for asking their partners to undergo genetic testing," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 36-43.
    4. Lewis, Sophie & Thomas, Samantha L. & Blood, R. Warwick & Castle, David J. & Hyde, Jim & Komesaroff, Paul A., 2011. "How do obese individuals perceive and respond to the different types of obesity stigma that they encounter in their daily lives? A qualitative study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 73(9), pages 1349-1356.
    5. Debra Jones Ringold, 2016. "Assumptions about Consumers, Producers, and Regulators: What They Tell Us about Ourselves," Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, University of Chicago Press, vol. 1(3), pages 341-354.
    6. Easter, Michele M., 2012. "“Not all my fault”: Genetics, stigma, and personal responsibility for women with eating disorders," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 75(8), pages 1408-1416.
    7. Ovrum, Arnstein & Gustavsen, Geir Waehler & Rickertsen, Kyrre, 2012. "Health inequalities over the adult life course: the role of lifestyle choices," 2012 Conference, August 18-24, 2012, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil 125862, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    8. Hakkarainen, Pekka, 2013. "Tobacco Road Finland – How did an accepted pleasure turn into an avoidable risk behaviour?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 253-259.
    9. Evans-Polce, Rebecca J. & Castaldelli-Maia, Joao M. & Schomerus, Georg & Evans-Lacko, Sara E., 2015. "The downside of tobacco control? Smoking and self-stigma: A systematic review," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 26-34.
    10. repec:eee:socmed:v:185:y:2017:i:c:p:127-136 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. repec:eee:socmed:v:196:y:2018:i:c:p:209-215 is not listed on IDEAS


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