Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Ethics briefing
  1. Veronica English,
  2. Gillian Romano-Critchley,
  3. Ann Sommerville
  1. Medical Ethics Department, British Medical Association

    Statistics from

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

    A right to treatment?

    There is growing international debate about the so-called “right to health” and the likely content of such a right as it is gradually defined by international bodies such as the UN committee on economic, social, and cultural rights. Although some countries, such as Mexico, have incorporated the right of access to basic treatment into their national constitution, practical implications generally remain to be fully articulated. Lawyers have been trying to do this by developing internationally accepted indicators which can be used to measure a nation's progress towards compliance with social, economic and cultural rights.1 Clearly, compliance can only be judged against the yardstick of resources.

    Restructuring of health services and the need to contain spiralling health costs have led many countries to focus on developing a basic health care package as a “right”. The USA, in the Clinton era, had inconclusive discussions about this and basic packages have been implemented by governments as diverse as Brazil, Germany, Israel, and the Netherlands. As the BMA has discussed,2 the prime responsibility for ensuring that rights are fulfilled rests with governments who are signatory to international human rights declarations. Nevertheless, hospitals and other health facilities may logically be deemed to have some obligations, by delegation from government, to respect the rights of people needing urgent treatment.

    The question of what this right means to health professionals needs exploring. Access to health care, particularly in a life-threatening emergency, appears to be a fundamental component of any such postulated right. Also, individual health professionals are generally perceived as having an ethical duty to respond to “need” when they are able to help. In July 2001, the potential legal consequences of failing to do so were highlighted by a case in India where the medical administrator of a Delhi hospital refused emergency treatment to …

    View Full Text

    Other content recommended for you