Healthcare IS a Right

Healthcare is a human right.  But as the healthcare debate drags on here in the US, its legitimacy as a right is under attack.

Eddie (friend from college) shared on Facebook today an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, “The Whole Foods Alternative To ObamaCare”:

Many promoters of health-care reform believe that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health care—to equal access to doctors, medicines and hospitals. While all of us empathize with those who are sick, how can we say that all people have more of an intrinsic right to health care than they have to food or shelter?

Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That’s because there isn’t any. This “right” has never existed in America

Similarly in “Health Care, Why Call it a Right?” on the HuffPost, Duke University professor John David Lewis writes:

The reason is that advocates of government medicine are upholding health care as a moral right. The moral goal of a “right” to health care is blinding people to the cause and effect relationship between government actions and rising prices.

But the very idea that health care — or any good provided by others — is a “right” is a contradiction. The rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence were to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each of these is a right to act, not a right to things. “To secure these rights governments are instituted,” which means to secure the rights of each person to exercise his or her liberty in pursuit of his or her own happiness.

They are wrong.  The United States has adopted the  Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR), which asserts in Article 25, Section 1:

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.

While the UDHR is largely an aspirational document, many international lawyers argue that it is now legally binding under international customary law.  The US has also signed (but not yet ratified) the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which guarantees in article 12:

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
2. The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the stillbirth-rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;
(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;
(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;
(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

Whole Foods is leaving a bad taste in my mouth right now.  I have been a frequent shopper there, but now I have my doubts.  Boycott?

Mackey continues:

Unfortunately many of our health-care problems are self-inflicted: two-thirds of Americans are now overweight and one-third are obese. Most of the diseases that kill us and account for about 70% of all health-care spending—heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes and obesity—are mostly preventable through proper diet, exercise, not smoking, minimal alcohol consumption and other healthy lifestyle choices.

<sarcasm>Well, I’m glad I have the “right” to pay a premium at Whole Foods for my healthy food fix.</sarcasm>  DJ, another Facebook friend, puts things into perspective: “of course, good food (like good health care) should take all of your paycheck. that’s the whole paycheck way.”  Telling poor people to spend more money that they don’t have to eat healthy food they can’t afford so they don’t get sick and require health care they can’t pay for is just a sick sick way of asking “why don’t they eat cake?”  I know the attribution to Marie Antoinette is apocryphal, but you get my point.

Mackey tries to bring Canada and the UK into his argument:

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor’s Business Daily. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million.

Unlike the US, Canada and UK have ratified the ICESCR, so there is a legally binding right to health in those countries.  Healthcare rationing and long wait times are some of the typical talking points of those opposed to national health care in this country.  But let’s look at the real numbers.  A June 2009 Gallup Poll found that 16% of US adults over age 18 are without health insurance.  The US Census Bureau estimates that there are about 307 million people in the US.  So 16% of 307 million is about 49 million Americans without health insurance.  That’s more than the entire population of Canada. I wonder how long those 49 million Americans have to wait when they need health care.  How about forever?

At Whole Foods we allow our team members to vote on what benefits they most want the company to fund.

That’s great John Mackey, but how about this idea: “In the United States, we allow the people to vote on what health plan they most want the government to fund.” And by “the people”, I mean including those 49 million American adults without health insurance, not just CEOs who probably have very good health insurance for themselves spouting off about “what the people need” in an op-ed.

Bug4Good: Open Source for Human Rights

 

From my colleague Enrique Piraces at Human Rights Watch:

I want to share with you our submission to the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Mobile Challenge. 

The project is great 🙂 and we have an opportunity to get some attention and further develop the idea. 

Voting will take place between March 23 and March 27, 2009 and will determine the Top Ten Finalists. 

I want to invite you to keep an eye on the project and to help us spread the word about it. And if you want to further improve your karma, please consider registering to vote for the project. [It is so easy. Just register, go to the project page, and give us a “star”. After that you can also share any comments and criticisms in the same page] 

http://www.netsquared.org/projects/bug4good 

The Global Handshake

I just got an email from Paul Hilder of Avaaz.org about a Global Handshake for the China Olympics:

As the Beijing Olympics begin, the world looks on with mixed emotions. It’s a moment which should bring us closer together, and Chinese citizens deserve their excitement — but the Chinese government still hasn’t opened meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or changed its stance on Burma, Darfur and other pressing issues.

Even worse, extremists in China are promoting the view that Olympic activism like ours is anti-Chinese. We can’t stay silent, but we also can’t let our efforts be abused to divide people. So what can we do? The answer comes from the Dalai Lama himself, in an unambiguous gesture of Olympic spirit and friendship: a handshake.

It began in London, passed hand to hand by thousands of us — now the handshake has gone online, and is criss-crossing the globe on its way to Beijing. All of us can join, Chinese and non-Chinese, and it comes with a promise: to hold ALL our governments accountable where they fall short, in Tibet, Iraq, Burma or beyond. We’ll deliver our message in a bold media campaign in Hong Kong and around the world: Click below to see how the Olympic handshake started, sign up to join in, and watch it circle the globe —

http://www.avaaz.org/en/handshake

The handshake idea is nice (with all of the banality of that word fully intended), but let’s not forget to extend the dialogue to the Uighurs or with Taiwan.  Ok, I concede, the “round-the-world” map animation showing virtual handshakes is pretty rad, but I digress.

There’s not a lot of hope for the kind of openness that allows for fruitful dialogue on the Chinese side when they beat up and harass foreign journalists trying to cover the attack in Kashgar.  Then there is the systematic internet censorship.  The guarantee of press freedoms for foreign journalists was part of the contract that the Chinese government agreed to in order to host the Games.  The Chinese government isn’t living up to their side of the bargain.

And those missiles aimed at Taiwan aren’t too friendly or conducive to dialogue either, are they?  Or how about that attempted Chinese weapon shipment to Zimbabwe?  Not very peaceful either.

And then there are those Beijingers who were forcefully and unlawfully evicted from their homes without proper compensation to make way for the Olympics.  And the peaceful Chinese civil society activists (and regular residents of Beijing) who are living under lockdown as a result of the games.  Their grievances can hardly be considered anti-Chinese; since they ARE Chinese.  Same goes for the repression of Falun Gong practitioners and other religious groups.

Ok, so I’ve given a handshake for peace, but what is the Chinese government going to give its own citizens and the international community in return?  Do Chinese leaders and hardline nationalists even want a handshake?  Or do they want the world to kowtow in reverence and awe at the “new” China’s coming-out party?  As much as we all wished that the Olympics were about sports and international goodwill, the truth is, they are also about state-sponsored political propaganda (and uncomfortable displays of nationalism if you ask me) as well as corporate bottom lines.

A small favor (only takes 30 seconds)

Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director of LGBT Rights at Human Rights Watch, has been nominated for the Jos Brink Prize, award by the Dutch government for outstanding work on furthering LGBT human rights. Before coming to HRW, Boris was member of the Dutch Parliament.  He sponsored a bill on the opening of civil marriage to same sex couples and a bill on adoption by gay couples.  Both bills became law in 2001.

The prize is determined by popular vote on the internet.  This is where we need your help.  Please vote for Boris at http://www.coc.nl/dopage.pl?thema=any&pagina=polls&stelling_id=87.

It only takes a few seconds, and no registration or personal information is necessary.  The site is in Dutch, but voting is simple and straightforward.  You don’t need to read Dutch or even be Dutch to participate.

Boris is currently in second place, but we only need a few more votes to get him to number one, so your vote counts.  The recipient of the prize will receive 10,000 Euros and an artwork.  More importantly, winning the prize would give Human Rights Watch an increased visibility in our fight to protect the rights of LGBT communities around the world, especially in places where they are being discriminated against, tortured and executed.

Thanks so much for your help, or as the Dutchies say, “Dank je wel.”

More about Boris
More on HRW’s work on LGBT rights

Save the Olympics?

I got this in my inbox this morning from Avaaz.org (My comments are in RED BOLD).

For those of you new to the blog or who do not know me personally, I worked at Avaaz for 1 year during its initial start-up phase. I’m now at Human Rights Watch, working with their China team on their China Olympics campaign, among other things. My commentary is solely my own as a concerned and engaged citizen blogger and activist and does not reflect the opinion of Human Rights Watch. I am doing this for the sake of open debate and dialogue about China, the Olympics and human rights.

Dear Friends,

The Beijing Olympics are a crucial chance to persuade China’s leaders to support dialogue and human rights in Tibet, as well as Burma and Darfur, and we need to seize it.

Dialogue alone is not enough, Tibetans, Burmese, Darfurians, Chinese and everybody else need concrete actions that result in better human rights. It’s also time to China to work on human rights in China as well. Learn more about the human rights issues surrounding the Olympics on Human Rights Watch’s China Olympics page.

Also, don’t forget the issue of Taiwan and the rise of rampant nationalism in China. I hope a Taiwanese athlete wins a medal. As in previous Olympic games, China has pressured the international community into forcing Taiwanese athletes to compete under the name “Chinese Taipei.” The Taiwanese (Republic of China) flag and national anthem are banned at the Olympics. When an athlete wins a medal, s/he gets to stand with the other medalists while their national flags are displayed and national anthems are played, but if and when a Taiwanese athlete wins a medal, s/he will stand without the Taiwanese flag and in silence. I’m not one for flag waving and national(ist) anthems, but I have to admit, the silent symbolism will sure be poignant.

China wants the Olympics to be a coming out party for a newly modern, powerful, and respectable nation. But the Olympics are about humanity and excellence–we can’t celebrate them in good conscience while ignoring the suffering of Tibetans and others. The Olympics are also about perpetuating nationalist propaganda and corporate sponsors making millions of dollars (or Euros or Yuan since the US dollar is becoming increasingly worthless).

So Avaaz is launching a major new campaign: SAVE THE OLYMPICS. We’ll ask China to save the Olympics for all of us (and more importantly for the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda team and for the shareholders of the corporate sponsors), by making specific, reasonable progress in dialogue with the Dalai Lama, securing release of Burmese and Tibetan political prisoners, and supporting peacekeeping in Darfur.

Ok, so even if the Chinese government does talk to the Dalai Lama, what will they say, what are the asks? Talking for the sake of talking is a start, but there has to be an agenda and a concrete roadmap for improving the human rights of Tibetans.

Our appeal will be placed on billboards and ads in major Olympic cities, in Chinese overseas publications, and we’ll hire a Chinese language team to engage directly on China’s lively blogs and in chatrooms. Sounds like a great idea, I hope they can pull this one off, especially the billboards and ads. Do the major Olympic cities in Beijing? Probably not, since I don’t think the Chinese government would allow that to happen. That’s pretty indicative of the lack of freedom of speech in China, isn’t it? We need 10,000 donations from people from 100 countries to kickstart the campaign this week with a truly global sponsorship–click below to see the ads and donate whatever you can, however small:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/save_the_olympics/1.php?cl=77024255

Within China, where the Olympics were once seen as a victory for greater openness and internationalism, the internal debate has taken a bitter turn. Most Chinese are now growing angry over Olympic activism, seeing it as biased and “anti-Chinese.” Most Chinese also live on a highly controlled media diet, which along with a fiercely nationalistic education system, indoctrinates them to think that attacks against the Chinese Communist Party and government (which are one and the same) are attacks against “China” or the Chinese people.

If the games are a fiasco, China’s repressive hardliners will win the day–and we could see the worst crackdown yet.

We need to stop this, and fast. So our campaign aims to reach out to China and Chinese people to show that we’re not anti-China but pro-humanitarian, and that our desire is to save the 2008 Olympics, not ruin them. Click below to donate now: China, Chinese People, and the Chinese Communist Party are three very different things. One can be pro-human rights, anti-Chinese Communist Party, but still be pro-Chinese people.

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/save_the_olympics/1.php?cl=77024255

The Slogan of the 2008 Olympics is “One World, One Dream”. Let’s reach across barriers of perception and division, and ask the Chinese to make this dream come true for us this summer.

Does the implied “we” in “let’s reach across barriers of perception and division” include the Chinese government and state-controlled press? The Chinese government can help “reach across barriers of perception and division” by going easy on the jingoist national propaganda, letting journalists report unhindered in China, and by bringing down the “Great Firewall of China,” which prevents netizens in China from accessing fair and balanced news and other information about their own country and the world.

With hope,

Ricken, Ben, Graziela, Galit, Pascal, Iain, Milena, Sabrina and the whole Avaaz Team.

PS – If you are new to Avaaz, we are a new global campaigning organization launched in January 2007 that has rapidly grown to over 3 million members in every nation on earth. The Economist magazine has written of the power of Avaaz to “Give world leaders a deafening wake up call”, and we have been featured on the BBC talkshow HARDtalk. David Miliband, the UK foreign secretary, calls Avaaz “the best of the new in foreign policy”. You can see the results of our last campaign fundraiser, on Burma here, and the results of our last campaign on climate change here, as well as other campaign results here. Avaaz Foundation is a legally registered non-profit organization.

ABOUT AVAAZ
Avaaz.org is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means “voice” in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Paris, Washington DC, and Geneva.

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