The importance of human rights to health
Peter Hall considers the effect that human rights have on health and how denial of those rights has grave implications on wellbeing
- By: Peter Hall
Respect for human rights underpins ethical medical practice and is essential for a healthy population. The Hippocratic oath resembles contemporary health rights, as defined by international law.1
Human rights affect medical practice in several ways—they influence ethical codes; they justify each patient's claim to the best attainable physical and mental health through their emphasis on norms, obligations, and accountability; and health is jeopardised when generic human rights are violated. Moreover, the values enshrined in human rights are a reliable guide for contemporary practice because they are universal and focus on people as rights holders rather than patients.
The role of human rights in resolving ethical dilemmas was highlighted in 1999, when four medical specialists concluded that Senator Augusto Pinochet, Chile's former president, did not have the mental capacity to face extradition from the United Kingdom to Spain on charges of torture. The UK home secretary refused to release details of