Getting Human Rights Right in Global Health Policy
Posted on 10/10/2014
A research paper published by The Lancet today highlights a disturbing trend away from human rights in the global development agenda.
The international community is currently in the process of formulating the Sustainable Development Goals that will set the post-2015 development agenda. Many UN bodies, NGOs, governments and members of civil society have called for the SDGs to be embedded in a human rights framework.
However, in July of this year, the UN's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, of which Prime Minister David Cameron is co-chair, issued an outcome document that makes very sparing use of the words 'human rights'.
“Getting Human Rights Right in Global Health Policy” by Professor John Tasioulas (King’s College London) and Effy Vayena (University of Zurich) focuses specifically on the place of human rights in global health policy and argues for two main propositions.
First, global health policy needs to attend to more than just human rights - vitally important though they are. Global health policy, they argue, needs to promote compliance with duties people have to themselves (e.g. to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle) and to foster health-related common goods (e.g. the common good of a compassionate culture of organ donation). Human rights cannot be the whole of global health policy.
Second, insofar as human rights are relevant to global health policy, they include more than just the human right to health. The human right to health should be understood as a right to certain medical services and public health measures. It does not include - as some UN bodies and activists claim - rights to education, housing, and to be free from gender discrimination and torture. Instead, these are independent rights. There is more to human rights in global health policy than the human right to health.
Professor Tasioulas said: “By understanding human rights in this way, we believe, they can be rescued from over-ambitious and counterproductive claims made on their behalf by some of their most influential advocates in global health policy. Moreover, only in this way is there some chance of counteracting the trend away from human rights represented by the SDG Open Working Group's outcome document.”
Professor Tasioulas is Director of the Yeoh Tiong Lay Centre for Politics, Philosophy & Law.
Visit Professor Tasioulas' profile on King’s website
Access “Getting Human Rights Right in Global Health Policy” in full on The Lancet website