The Precautionary Principle vs. The “Prime Directive”.
NICHOLAS V.C. RALSTON
Energy & Environmental Research Center, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks ND 58282 U.S.A.
A fundamental rule or “prime directive” of health professionals is; Primum non nocere, -Latin for: “First, do no harm”. This principle is a reminder that even well intentioned actions can be harmful. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that our actions will not do more harm than good. A similarly fundamental concept public health is known as the precautionary principle, which can be stated in simple terms as: “Those that intend to perform an action (e.g. releasing wastes into the environment or selling a product for public consumption) that may harm the environment or the public must first prove that their intended activity or product is safe”. In other words, when the safety of a product, waste product, or other activity is unknown, unproven, or disputed, it is not the responsibility of the public to prove it is dangerous before restricting it. Instead, the burden of proof falls on those that are taking the action, not on the public or public agencies. However, what happens when applying the precautionary principle violates the prime directive?
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