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Privatizing Public Health: A Panel Discussion

March 17th, 2021 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Can private companies effectively serve public health functions?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, private companies have stepped into public health roles traditionally held by government agencies and non-governmental organizations.

For example, Google and Apple collaborated to create exposure notification software that has been adopted domestically and internationally; Verily, the life sciences division of Google’s parent company Alphabet, opened COVID-19 testing centers in fifteen states; Facebook created an elaborate system for suicide prevention while simultaneously determining what kinds of health information are safe for its billions of users to consume; and private companies have led COVID-19 vaccination efforts from development (e.g., Moderna and Pfizer) to distribution (e.g., CVS and Walgreens).

This privatization of public health, which has taken shape over the past few years and accelerated rapidly during the pandemic, raises challenging ethical and legal questions. What is lost when public health becomes privatized? Are values like scientific rigor, transparency, equity, and accountability upheld? Are the promised efficiencies of the free market realized? This panel discussion will address these questions and more.

Join the conversation or submit questions on Twitter at @PetrieFlom using #PrivatePublicHealth.


  • Introduction: Carmel Shachar, Executive Director, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School
  • Lindsay F. Wiley, Professor of Law, Director of Health Law and Policy Program, American University Washington College of Law
  • Tamar Sharon, Associate Professor of Philosophy of Technology; Co-director of the Interdisciplinary Hub for Security, Privacy and Data Governance, Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Nicolas Terry, Hall Render Professor of Law, Executive Director of William S. and Christine S. Hall Center for Law and Health, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law
  • Craig Konnoth, Associate Professor of Law, Director, Health Law Certificate; and Faculty Director, Health Data & Technology Initiative, Silicon Flatirons Center, University of Colorado School of Law
  • Moderator: Mason Marks, Assistant Professor of Law, Gonzaga University; Fellow in Ethics of Technological and Biomedical Innovation, Edmond J. Safra and Petrie-Flom Centers, Harvard University

Sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School and the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University.


Date: March 17th, 2021
Time: 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
Calendars: Public Events
Event types: Lectures / Seminars / Forums