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The Origins of Health: Community or Individual Responsibility

Response Essay #2:   The Origins of Health:  Community or Individual Responsibility

Read the following; excerpted from
Aday, L.A. (2001) At risk in America, The health and health care needs of vulnerable populations in the United States.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.  pp 1-2.

“Two different mother tongues – those of ‘individual rights’ and the ‘common good’ – have historically characterized American social and political discourse.  The semantics of the first emphasize the meanings of autonomy, independence, and individual well-being, while the second highlights norms of reciprocity, interdependence, and the public good.  Social critics have, however, observed that in contemporary American society, the first language of individualism has come to override the second mother tongue of community.

The principal ethical norms and values for guiding decision-making regarding the amelioration of risk underlying an individual perspective on the origins of poor physical, psychological, or social health are personal autonomy, independence and associated individual rights.  Good health is viewed to be primarily a function of personal lifestyle choices, and poor health outcomes result because individuals fail to assume adequate personal responsibility for their health and well-being.

A community perspective on the origins of health needs focuses on the differential risks that exist for different groups as a function of the availability of opportunities and resources for maximizing their health.  Norms of reciprocity, trust, and social obligation acknowledge the webs of interdependence and mutual support and caring that are essential for minimizing the risks of poor physical, psychological or social health.  Poor health results because communities fail to invest in and assume responsibility for the collective well-being of their members.”

  1. Which ‘mother tongue’do you think predominates in contemporary U.S. society?
  2. Regarding the ‘origins of good or poor health’, which perspective (individual responsibility vs. community responsibility) do you believe is most prevalent in American society today?
  3. Use examples observed in contemporary American society to defend your positions


Page limit:  3, including reference list
In-text citations are needed if you support your position with published literature




Last Updated on February 13, 2018

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