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Domestic and International Policy

Many countries and jurisdictions integrate a human rights philosophy in directing their healthcare policies. The World Health Organization reports that every country in the world is party to at least one human rights treaty that addresses health-related rights, including the right to health as well as other rights that relate to conditions necessary for good health.[5]The United Nations‘ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) asserts that medical care is a right of all people:[6]

  • UDHR Article 25: “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, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, illness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

In some jurisdictions and among different faith-based organizations, health policies are influenced by the perceived obligation shaped by religious beliefs to care for those in less favorable circumstances, including the sick. Other jurisdictions and non-governmental organizations draw on the principles of humanism in defining their health policies, asserting the same perceived obligation and enshrined right to health.[7][8] In recent years, the worldwide human rights organization Amnesty International has focused on health as a human right, addressing inadequate access to HIV drugs and women’s sexual and reproductive rights including wide disparities in maternal mortality within and across countries. Such increasing attention to health as a basic human right has been welcomed by the leading medical journal The Lancet.[9]

There remains considerable controversy regarding policies on who would be paying the costs of medical care for all people and under what circumstances. For example, government spending on healthcare is sometimes used as a global indicator of a government’s commitment to the health of its people.[10] On the other hand, one school of thought emerging from the United States rejects the notion of health care financing through taxpayer funding as incompatible with the (considered no less important) right of the physician’s professional judgment, and the related concerns that government involvement in overseeing the health of its citizens could erode the right to privacy between doctors and patients. The argument furthers that universal health insurance denies the right of individual patients to dispose of their own income as per their own will.[11][12]