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Health Care as a Human Right

Atalanta  |  Issue: November | December 2012
Photo: Sandy Perry
In these hard times of economic distress, many more take advantage of health fairs than they did before. This one took place in San Jose, California. Thanks to all medical staff who volunteered.

As a citizen of a European country, I never wondered why health is a human right. Under my European concepts, this assumption seemed unquestionable, until I immigrated to the U.S., and I encountered a private health care system.

Even though European universal health care systems are having problems and are attempting to introduce health care reductions, the recognition of health care as a human right means that privatization of the health care system will be rejected in Europe.

This article attempts to convey to the U.S. reader a European vision of universal health care.

Human rights are “the set of powers and institutions that in each historical moment fulfill the requirements of dignity, freedom and human equality which should be recognized positively by law and custom at the domestic and international level.” (Antonio Perez Luño, “Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and the Constitution,” Madrid: Techno Editorial Tecno 2003). Also, the Universal Statement of Human Rights establishes that, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

For centuries health was considered merely the “absence of disease” until in 1947, the World Health Organization redefined the concept of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The inclusion of “social” well-being indicated there had been a substantial change causing health to be included as a public good, not just a private matter.

Health became a basic social right of all persons located in a country. Thus, health has a relationship to the right to life and dignity, and any limitation on access to health services amounts to a serious exclusion from the social compact.

In spite of the inclusion of health as a right in the list of rights recognized by the international community, and even with broadening it to be a social right, in different parts of the world the practical application of health care, human rights and social rights is not sufficiently developed.

In some parts of the world, including Europe, Canada, South Korea and Brazil¸ health is considered a human right which automatically generates a series of obligations and responsibilities for the state, including the obligation of observing, promoting, protecting and facilitating universal access to health care. In other parts of world, the U.S. being the paradigmatic case, the consideration of health care as a commodity that depends on the individual and not on the state, results in a natural resistance to its universalization and the total exclusion of consideration of health care as a public and social good.

In California, this rejection of universalization is changing with the Campaign for a Healthy California, which has the motto of Medicare for All, and Health Care as a Human Right.

This Campaign, carried out by a coalition of different organizations, is firmly committed to the struggle to create a health system that guarantees access to the health system for all Californians. Greg Miller, coordinator and activist of the Campaign in Santa Clara County, in an exclusive interview with the Tribuno del Pueblo, explains that a universal health care system is possible and necessary for California.

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