Agenda and Speakers

Conference Agenda

Whose responsibility is the health of populations?

The World Health Organization reports that “…in the developed countries of North America, Europe and the Asian Pacific, at least one-third of all disease burden is attributable to these five risk factors: tobacco, alcohol, blood pressure, cholesterol and obesity” The same pattern is increasingly common in societies newly emerging from poverty. Many people could avoid these health problems by taking better care of themselves.

How we assign responsibility for health affects the public’s health — and, not incidentally, the profitability of leading industries, such as tobacco, food, and alcohol. It colors society’s response to new evidence of a social gradient in health; for some of the gap in life expectancy and health between rich and poor can be explained by differences in health-related behavior.

Responsibility for health is becoming an explicit concern of health policy. In 2006, the state of West Virginia won federal approval to make access to some health care services provided by its Medicaid program conditional on signing and fulfilling the terms of a responsibility-for-health contract. Other states are studying similar options. Meanwhile, legislators at all levels of government puzzle over the state’s role in personal decisions that bear on the public’s health, including drinking, smoking, exercise, choice of foods, and sexual practices.

Our conference seeks to clarify the issues at stake in debates over responsibility for health and to enlist the methods and theories from a number of disciplines in forging a coherent social response to the issues. The first day of the conference is primarily theoretical; the second is devoted to law and policy responses. The third day, April 28, is a closed discussion session for speakers and other scholars; requests for participation should be sent to the organizers.

All sessions will be held on the Harvard medical campus in Boston.

Participation is open without charge to all who have a professional interest in the subject. Admittance is limited to those registered in advance and is limited by the capacity of the auditorium.


Dan W. Brock, Harvard University Program in Ethics and Health

Speakers Include

  • Richard Arneson, University of California, San Diego
  • Ronald Bayer, Columbia University
  • Dan Beauchamp, University of North Carolina
  • Allan Brandt, Harvard University
  • Amy Brodkey, University of Pennsylvania
  • Norman Daniels, Harvard University
  • Richard Daynard, Northeastern University
  • Paul HR Dolan, Imperial College, London
  • Majid Ezzati, Harvard University
  • Marc Fleurbaey, Université de Paris
  • Sarah Gollust, University of Michigan
  • Michelle Mello, Harvard University
  • Ole Frithjof Norheim, University of Bergen, Norway
  • John Roemer, Yale University
  • Thomas Scanlon, Harvard University
  • Seana Shiffrin, University of California, Los Angeles
  • Shlomi Segall, Harvard University
  • Robert Steinbrook, New England Journal of Medicine
  • Jacob Sullum, Reason Magazine
  • Cass Sunstein, University of Chicago and Harvard University
  • Bertil Tungodden, Norwegian School of Econ & Business Admin
  • Daniel Wikler, Harvard University
  • Richard Zeckhauser, Harvard University

Case Study

Should healthcare be conditional on prudent behavior?
West Virginia Medicaid’s personal responsibility contract

  • Joan Alker, Georgetown University
  • Nancy Atkins, Commissioner of Medical Services, West Virginia
  • Melinda Beeuwkes Buntin, RAND Corporation
  • Jim Frogue, Center for Health Transformation