Raising Women’s Voices

Health as a Human Right – I

Posted in Uncategorized by raisingwomensvoices on December 16, 2008

In recognition of the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, The Lancet dedicated four pieces in its December 10th issue to discussions of why health should qualify as a human right and be recognized as such, not only by new legislation and government policy, but through public discussion and advocacy.

I’ll cover the rest of The Lancet’s pieces in subsequent posts, but first, Amartya Sen makes her argument for why health, rather than health care, should be a human right, stating:

 “The policy question points to the important fact that good health depends on health care, and health care is something that we can legislate about. But good health does not depend only on health care. It also depends on nutrition, lifestyle, education, women’s empowerment, and the extent of inequality and unfreedom in a society. A human right can serve as a parent not only of law, but also of many other ways of advancing the cause of that right. Even the fulfilment of the first-generation rights (such as religious liberty, freedom from arbitrary arrest, the right not to be assaulted and killed) depends not only on legislation but also on public discussion, social monitoring, investigative reporting, and social work.”

  The right to health has similarly broad demands that go well beyond legislating good health care (important as that is). There are political, social, economic, scientific, and cultural actions that we can take for advancing the cause of good health for all.”

These kinds of discussions are valuable and need to be happening more in our news media and public discussion.  When most Americans hear the term “human rights” their eyes cloud over with visions of far off lands where people are struggling to get by with little recognition of their hardships, for which the government denies any responsibility.  Sound familiar?  The term human rights needs desperately to enter our lexicon of discussion about the reality millions of uninsured and underinsured women, children, low-income people, and people of color are facing each day in their battles with sickness and the American health care system.


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