The Human Right to Health

The Human Right to Health

by Jonathan Wolff

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“A broad-ranging, insightful analysis of the complex practical and ethical issues involved in global health.”—Kirkus ReviewsSee more details below


“A broad-ranging, insightful analysis of the complex practical and ethical issues involved in global health.”—Kirkus Reviews

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
University College London philosophy professor Wolff convincingly argues that good health care is a fundamental responsibility of governments to its citizens. Starting with John Locke in the 17th century, continuing to Eleanor Roosevelt in the mid-20th century, and ending with Melinda and Bill Gates today, Wolff (Disadvantage) artfully describes the bumpy, politicized road that advocates have traveled to add health to the American mantra of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” In 1947, the World Health Organization took a major step when it asserted in its constitution that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.” Putting health on equal footing with other human rights meant that governments had to take action in ensuring that all citizens could gain access to health care without discrimination. Wolff demonstrates how governments were seriously tested when the HIV/AIDS pandemic reared its ugly head in the early 1980s. Each generation is tested on its embrace of human rights as an article of binding faith, and, as Wolff reminds us, multilateral institutions like the World Bank can hinder governments from ensuring better health for their citizens. Most importantly, society must remain vigilant to ensure that no one is subject to discrimination based on his or her health status. (Feb.)
Library Journal
The quantity and quality of health care to which all human beings are entitled is a much-debated question. Wolff (political philosophy, Univ. Coll. London; An Introduction to Political Philosophy) begins with the ways the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights frames each individual's right to health. He recounts the various ways that the right to health has been understood in both developed and developing countries. It is especially helpful that the book goes beyond traditional questions of rights in medical ethics and explores the failures of World Bank and International Monetary Fund structural adjustment policies (the conditions both organizations set for potential and existing borrowers) to increase global health, the perils of single-disease programs such as those run by the Gates Foundation, and the problem of brain drain, which leaves many developing nations without skilled medical professionals. VERDICT An accessible and informative exploration of the relationship between health and human rights as it has been construed on both national and international levels.—A. Klink, Duke Univ., Durham, NC
Kirkus Reviews
Guardian columnist Wolff (Philosophy/University College London; Ethics and Public Policy, 2011 etc.) poses a challenging but essential question: "How can there be a human right to health if the resources are just not there to satisfy it?" Before addressing the current global health crisis, the author looks back at Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 speech in which he asserted that the "four freedoms"--freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from fear and want--are basic human rights. In 1945, the first UN Charter included provisions for human rights, in 1948 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed and during the same period the World Health Organization came into existence. The protection of human rights became international law in 1976. This is the context for the definition of "right to health" as a human right protected under international law, although its implications are still under debate. Does it include free access to condoms and abortion, or the right of developing nations to produce affordable pharmaceuticals in violation of patents? Wolff uses the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a case study--from its discovery in 1981 to the fight over funding to support research and guarantee that sufferers have access to treatment. He writes about how international efforts to deal with the spread of AIDS to Haiti and Africa were derailed by a "catastrophic" change in World Bank policies in the 1980s, when the Bank, and the IMF, insisted that developing countries seeking aid cut back public-sector expenditures. Just as these constraints were being reversed, the World Trade Organization demanded that members cease violating patents by producing low-cost generic pharmaceuticals. While the author describes the struggle to establish the right to universal health as a work in progress, he is cautiously optimistic. A broad-ranging, insightful analysis of the complex practical and ethical issues involved in global health.

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Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Amnesty International Global Ethics Series
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

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