Is Health Insurance a Human Right?

Children Ponder the UDHR
Children Ponder the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (photo credit: United Nations website)

Many of you may know that besides my law degree, I have a Specialization in International Law. I was fortunate enough to train at one of the top schools for International Law, DePaul University. While I did not follow the path to a career in the field, I am in contact with many who did, and I still find myself questioning our American society with an eye toward international standards. Which brings me to my current pondering – Should health insurance be considered an inherent human right?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 1948)

In the post-World War period, nations were occupied with how to prevent another devastating world war from transpiring. After all, leaders had already done their best in the years after WWI to prevent another mass human slaughter, and look where that got them. Clearly they needed some fresh strategies. At the United Nations, talks were in progress for the drafting of a treaty which would detail the inherent and inalienable rights of a human. If you are born a human, you have these human rights – simple as that. The lead drafter of this document was none other than American politician and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Our Inalienable Right to Health

Article 25 of the UDHR (emphasis added):

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, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

The UDHR was unanimously adopted by the United Nations in 1948 (48 yays and 8 abstentions). So how is it that sixty-six years later, in 2014, we are JUST NOW readjusting our health system so that those without insurance coverage have a new chance at obtaining it? While it is true that medical care can be accessed without insurance, in the United States it has become largely unaffordable for the uninsured. Quite simply, people die early and easily preventable deaths in our country, because they are un- (or under-) insured. It happened in my own family, as recently as January.

I, for one, find this to be an entirely unacceptable state of affairs. Our country had more sense and human compassion during those post world war days than it does today. Today we are increasingly becoming corporate pawns, unable to think for ourselves and happy to take home our satisfactory paycheck and believe the uplifting stories we are fed by corporate media. If we don’t start looking around us and noticing the suffering of our compatriots, we could end up embroiled in crises we cannot yet comprehend. Perhaps another Revolution? I hope not. Our predecessors drafted documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to prevent those very bloody catastrophes from occurring.

American Flags
American Flags

I am thankful that our government finally addressed the lack of equal access to health care in this country, even if it took them a shameful sixty-six years to make a bold move toward that ideal standard our very own Eleanor Roosevelt helped memorialize. Every nation of the world should periodically pause to recall the massive amount of suffering and death the world experienced in WWs I and II, and strive to reach the principles set out by the UDHR. As Article 1 of the Declaration states:

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Amen to that.



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