Is Health a Right or a Responsibility?

As the semester draws to an end, I find myself overwhelmed by the surplus of new ideas, realizations, and data I have acquired by taking this class.  In many regards, I find myself asking more questions than I had when we began: What are Human Rights?  Are Human Rights universal? Is healthcare or health a Human Right? 

There is another question I am struggling with, however… is healthcare a right or a responsibility? 

 Is it a fundamental right, one we are born with and one which cannot be denied, or is it something much more unstable and shifting?  We have bumped up against this question time and again.   

 I would like to argue, then, that healthcare is both a right and a responsibility.  The responsibility, it seems, is both on the part of the individual and on the part of society, globally.  From our numerous discussions, I believe we have come to agree that a great discrepancy exists between the “Have”s and the “Have- not”s in regards to healthcare access – the few seem to have a lot, while the many seem to have nothing. 

 Does it make sense that the “actual figure for U.S. foreign aid giving [is] about 1.6 percent of the discretionary budget,” less than one quarter of what industrialized countries pledged to give at the 1992 Rio Conference?  To me, it does not.  I cannot seem to justify this. 

Moreover, we have discussed various ways through which high-income countries profit from the poverty and disparity of low-income countries (outsourced clinical trials, sub-par healthcare, pharmaceutical companies, etc).  In a world that seems to be so extensively globalized, do we (as citizens of the world, and, particularly, as citizens of a high-income country) not incur a greater responsibility to give aid, if we have even the slightest possibility of doing so?  Perhaps, we do not.  Perhaps, it is fitting to say that we live in a world that is “unfair” and “doomed” and it is unlikely that a radical change will come in the future, making any attempt on the part of a single person is futile. 

I, however, am not comfortable with this.  I’d like to once again bring up Professor Alcabes’s argument, which forces us to really be honest with ourselves: either, we do NOT believe that human rights are universal, thus justifying their variance as a result of circumstance…OR, we believe that human rights ARE universal, therefore, causing us to address the many discrepancies we have discussed.  If the human right to be free from disease, to have healthcare and clean water, to be protected from exploitative research experiments, to have information, etc. is not merely a moral aspiration, then I believe that there is a universal responsibility on the part of all people to protect this right.

 I am not delusional about the sad realities of the world we live in; however, great things have been achieved by people who refused to accept these realities as being inescapable.  Perhaps, a persistent discomfort on our part may also bring about a change. 

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