Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2006


The foundational premise of this essay is that health and well-being are human rights issues. My focus on this theme, specifically within the human rights paradigm, is new, passionate, and personal. On December 15, 2005, just three months before the conference that prompted the writing of this essay, I lost my partner of over 20 years. She fought a valiant, strong, and dignified fight against cancer--a journey I traveled with her. During that time I learned much about health systems and health care. Most saliently, notwithstanding the reality of the extraordinarily good care she ultimately received, I realized there is a great need for reform in the way we think about, and act upon, patients' health care needs in order to promote and protect their dignity as well as their mental and physical health.

Part II presents historical writings which show that, even before the advent of the discipline we call human rights, health was viewed as a fundamental right of “mankind.” It then maps some key legal documents that designate and protect health as a human right. These documents provide the blueprint for claiming a right to human well-being to which a right to health (as well as other human rights) is central. Next, Part III specifically focuses on the Global Gag Rule, a draconian policy deployed by the United States during President Reagan's administration in furtherance of its ideological support of strategies that lend a blind protection to unborn life. Part IV focuses on HIV/AIDS. First, the article sets forth the circumstances surrounding the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Second, it shows the unfortunate and unintended consequences of the gag rule on HIV/AIDS services and treatments.

The essay concludes by looking forward and suggesting that the content of such a right to human well-being should include a broad range of health care services--a broader range than even South Africa, one of the most progressive states in this regard, has recognized. The proposed paradigmatic shift utilizes feminist, third world, racial, and queer interrogations to re-frame the debate and shift the focus from money--a focus that unveils the injustice of an economic power-based cost analysis--to human dignitary interests. Such understanding permits the crafting of a well-being/human thriving-based approach to health. It embraces an idea for the delivery of health care services that promotes human flourishing and centers people, not money or politics, in the provision of care.