The International Right to Health Care: A Legal and Moral Defense

In the following, I outline the case against the international right to health care and explain why recognition of such a right is still necessary. The argument is explicitly limited to international human rights law and is primarily descriptive in nature, but I go on to explain the moral reasons to accept this account. Both the positive law and moral reasoning could be used in other health rights debates, but I do not attempt to make such claims here.

The structure of my work is as follows. I first outline three problems with recognizing an international right to health care. Then, I present a defense of the right. My defense takes the form of two lines of argument. First, I argue that the plain text of the documents that create and interpret the right to health supports the idea of a right to health care. Contrary to critics’ claims, the relevant provisions often highlight the importance of particular health care goods and services and create specific obligations for states to provide them. The provisions explaining these requirements are tied not only to a concern with improved health outcomes, but also to other foundational norms of international human rights law, such as dignity and equality, which require provision of basic health care and fair distribution of all health care resources. In the alternative, I argue that, even if the international right to health does not obviously include a right to health care as a matter of textual interpretation, such a right can be and should be developed from other international rights that share the right to health care’s foundational concerns with dignity and equality. As part of this alternative approach, I further argue that international law more broadly prioritizes health care and that recognition of an international right to health care is a good way of rendering international law coherent by emphasizing health care’s priority in another area of law. Following presentation of these arguments, I outline the moral value of recognizing an international right to health care, explain how my arguments resolve three problems with recognizing such a right, and address a set of lingering objections.