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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Daniel Swartzman, JD, MPH (University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health)
Description: Prof. Wendy Parmet's book has a clear point of view, that the law should be judged, in part, by its ability to produce an increase in the healthiness of the population, an approach referred to as "population-based legal analysis."
Purpose: Prof. Parmet is advocating for this particular view of the law, which is based upon three core elements. First, that populations affect the law and are affected by the law. Second, that there ought to be a "normative stance toward population health." If the law promotes public health, then that is a "positive good." And third, the law ought to incorporate the empirical and probabilistic analyses of traditional population-based approaches to health alongside the analogical and deductive reasoning that are the current accepted heuristics in the legal profession. This is an interesting and potentially important thesis, and Prof. Parmet does a good job of explaining and exploring it.
Audience: The audience for this book is broad. It will be useful to academics in law schools and in schools of public health, both as a treatise and as a text. It has some use as an extended essay for practicing lawyers. Prof. Parmet is a well-known and highly respected author, and this will add to her reputation.
Features: The book looks at how population-based legal analysis differs from more common perspectives, like the law and economics approach, and more traditional public health law critiques. It examines how this analytical view would play out in a variety of public health law arenas, like obesity prevention and control, the uses of tort law in public health, food safety, etc.
Assessment: As a professor at a school of public health, I would consider this book for my class in law and public health. It has enough of the intellectual history that is sometime lacking in other such books, it has a well-argued perspective which will give students something to respond to, and it covers most of the topics needed in such a class. I didn't see much on property law or contract law, fundamental parts of American jurisprudence that have their place in public health's efforts to control problems such as pollution, lead poisoning, food labeling, etc. But that is a quibble. As a practicing plaintiff's lawyer, I would predict that if the courts were willing to accept Prof. Parmet's suggestions, pursuing justice for victims of poor public health practices would be much easier. Although I think such changes are unlikely to happen anytime soon, they wouldn't happen at all unless someone suggests them with reason and clarity, as Prof. Parmet does in this book.