Willam Easterly, an economist at NYU, had a nice op-ed piece in the Financial Times a few weeks ago.
He gives some history and context:
- The notion of a “right to health” has its origins in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
- The [World Health Organization] shifted from pragmatic improvement of health outcomes towards “the universal realisation of the right to health”.
- Even Amnesty International . . . added a new section to its human rights report in 2009 on the “right to health”.
- President Barack Obama recently held a conference call with religious leaders in which he called healthcare “a core ethical and moral obligation”.
the global campaign to equalise access to healthcare has had a surprising result: it has made global healthcare more unequal.
The bottom line: those who frame health care as a "right" are serving up empty rhetoric.
Why is the concept of "healthcare as human right" so flawed and problematic?
It is impossible for everyone immediately to attain the “highest attainable standard” of health (as the health rights declaration puts it). So [the question of] which “rights to health” are realised [becomes] a political battle. Political reality is that such a “right” is a trump card to get more resources – and it is rarely the poor who play it most effectively.
The pragmatic approach – directing public resources to where they have the most health benefits for a given cost – [has] historically achieved far more than the moral approach . . .
[The concept of a] “right” [to healthcare] skews public resources towards the most politically effective advocates, who will seldom be the neediest.