Human Rights, Health Care, and Skepticism

If you live in the United States (or even if you just live somewhere with the Internet) you’ve probably heard something about our health care debate. A generous reading of the national discussion says that it was a philosophical disagreement of the role of government in the health care market. (An ungenerous reading says it was just a bunch of people screaming, “OBAMACARE” and “SOCIALISM” into cameras.)

If you’re someone who believes everyone should have access to basic health services, you’re in good company (like, the rest of the industrialized world.) If you’re also a skeptic, recent developments should concern you greatly.

In the United States, our welfare state is weak. The culture as a whole just doesn’t recognize health care as a human right. But it is. It’s right there in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Article 25

  • (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.
  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Emphasis mine.

My sense is that this isn’t too controversial in much of Western Europe. Medical care shouldn’t bankrupt you or leave you in poverty. A good argument can be made for the right to have access to preventative health care, like vaccines. The human right to adequate health care cannot be denied because of social status. It’s right there in the UDHR:

Article 2

  • Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Sort of obvious, really.

Not so obvious to everybody, actually. Over the past year, we’ve seen an unprecedented assault on reproductive health care. Let’s be clear. Reproductive health care is a necessary part of guaranteeing a woman’s overall health. It’s not a separate add-on. There have been attempts to force women to listen to a fetal heartbeat before getting an abortion, which can exist as early as 6 weeks into the pregnancy but well before the fetus has developed beyond a cluster of cells. There have been attempts to ban abortions after 20 weeks because, anti-choicers claim, a 20 week old fetus can feel pain. (They can’t.) The persistent myth that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer is running wild in state legislatures. We’ve seen efforts to limit access to contraception (otherwise known slut pills.) Organizations that provide reproductive health care for poor women are being defunded.

You’ll notice what these have in common. These measures are profoundly anti-science and thus anti-skeptic. All of these efforts ignore the realities of biology and sometimes depend on shoddy research. The measures ignore the necessity of reproductive health care in the lives of all women. The last time I checked, women were people. These efforts to limit reproductive health care are direct violations of women’s human rights. If skeptics are truly committed to fighting woo wherever it lives, then human rights activists and skeptical activists have a common enemy. The pro-science crowd and the pro-human rights crowd should be on the same side.

There’s another layer to this. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it’s also a human right to “share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Not only do anti-choice measures violate the human right to health care, but also the ability for half the population to benefit from scientific advancement and its benefits. Birth control is wonderful scientific advancement that allows women to regulate her own reproduction and only have children if or when she’s wants to. It’s hard to think of something more valuable than that.

It’s surprising how many human rights violations we could avoid if we just, you know, understand science.

Featured image credit: NESRI

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Mindy is an attorney and Managing Editor of Teen Skepchick. She hates the law and loves stars. You can follow her on Twitter and on Google+.


  1. June 3, 2012 at 1:46 am —

    US politicians likes to pretend that it has the awesomest human rights while lecturing other countries about it. Sure, it probably has better human rights than many authoritarian countries around the world, but that is setting the bar really low.

    • June 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm —

      Truth. We aren’t very good at sticking by human rights principles. We also don’t tend to accept economic, social, and cultural rights as human rights, which has to do with Cold War politics.

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