Advancing Action on Health Equity Through a Sociolegal Model of Health

Ashley Schram, Tessa Boyd-Caine, Suzie Forell, Frances Baum, Sharon Friel

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Policy Points Health actors can use the law more strategically in the pursuit of health and equity by addressing governance challenges (e.g., fragmented and overlapping mandates between health and nonhealth institutions), employing a broader rights-based discourse in the public health policy process, and collaborating with the access to justice movement. Health justice partnerships provide a road map for implementing a sociolegal model of health to reduce health inequities by strengthening legal capacities for health among the health workforce and patients. This in turn will enable them to resolve health issues with legal solutions, to dismantle service silos, and to drive systemic policy and law reform. Context: In the field of public health, the law and legal systems remain a poorly understood and substantially underutilized tool to address unfair or unjust societal conditions underpinning health inequities. The aim of our article is to demonstrate the value of expanding from a social model of health to a sociolegal model of health and empowering health actors to use the law more strategically in the pursuit of health equity. Methods: We propose a modified version of the framework for the social determinants of health (SDoH) equity developed by the 2008 World Health Organization Commission on the Social Determinants of Health by conceptually integrating the functions of the law as identified by the 2019 Lancet–O'Neill Institute Commission on Global Health and Law. Findings: Access to justice provides a critical intersection between social models of public health and work in the justice fields. Addressing the inequities produced through the policies and institutions governing society unites the causes of those seeking to enhance access to justice and those seeking to reduce health inequities. Health justice partnerships (HJPs) are an example of a sociolegal model of health in action. Through the resolution of health issues with legal solutions at the individual level, the dismantling of service silos at the institutional level, and policy and law reform at the systemic level, HJPs demonstrate how the law can be used as a tool to reduce social and health inequities. Conclusions: Greater attention to law as a tool for health creates space for increased collaboration among legal and health scholars, practitioners, and advocates, particularly those working in the areas of the social determinants of health and access to justice, and a promising avenue for reducing health inequities.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)904-927
    JournalMilbank Quarterly
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 2021


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