As our nation debates the vital issue of health care reform, we must not lose sight of the crucial human rights obligations at stake. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations with strong US engagement, specifically lists adequate medical care as a human right (Article 25). The current US health care system falls far short of respecting that human right. The plight of the uninsured, personal bankruptcy due to the cost of illness, ethnic disparities in delivery of care, lack of access to quality health care in rural and urban locations, and denial of care to undocumented workers – all are features of the current system and all are morally untenable human rights violations, especially in a wealthy nation like ours. Any reform process must urgently address them.
Physicians for Human Rights does not take a position on the specific details of existing reform proposals. We strongly believe, however, that any meaningful and effective plan must adhere to certain principles, derived from the internationally recognized right to the highest attainable standard of health. At a minimum, therefore, the US government has an obligation to ensure that health services are available, accessible, acceptable, and of good quality for all people. Under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ratified by the US) the government must undertake to prohibit and eliminate discrimination in all its forms, including eliminating ethnic disparities in health care delivery. The government also has an obligation to prevent denial of access to health care for any persons, including prisoners or detainees, minorities, asylum seekers, and illegal immigrants. The right to health care can be assured under many different systems – public, public/private mix, or entirely private – as long there is access for all, including those who cannot afford to pay.
Reform of the health care system is too important to the entire nation to be sidetracked by political partisanship and narrow commercial interests. We urge all health professionals, PHR members and supporters, and all human rights advocates to send messages to Congress and the Administration insisting that human rights considerations, not only financial and political concerns, be placed at the heart of the reform process. Legislation centered on this framework will move the United States toward a more equitable and morally responsible health care system.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mobilizes the health professions to advance the health and dignity of all people by protecting human rights. As a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.