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A Human Right to Health

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Location: Radcliffe Conference Centre, University of Warwick

A Human Right to Health and/or Health Care? Challenges and Possibilities in Historical Perspective

This workshop brings together historians, anthropologists, scientistis, lawyers, sociologists, political scientists and public health experts to explore together the complicated linkage between human rights to health and/or health care. Since the creation of the United Nations over 50 years ago, international responsibility for health and/or health care and human rights has been increasingly acknowledged and expressed, particularly on an international level. However, on a practical, everyday and national level, the history of health and/or health care human rights is much shorter.

In fact, the actual link between health and human rights and the development of a common discourse connecting these two areas is of recent datum. Indeed, it has been argued that the linkages only goes back to the last third of the 20th century, owing conceptually much to the global HIV/AIDS pandemic, to women’s health issues, including violence, and to the atrocious violation of human rights which occurred in such places as the Balkans and Africa. These recent historical events helped to draw the discourses of health and human rights closer together, which, until then, had developed more or less independently from each other.

The workshop has two aims: on one hand, it explores the nature, possibilities and challenges of the recent discourse of human rights and health and/or health care. What is the relationship between human rights to health and /or health care and other civic and human rights? How might health rights conflict with other historically grown rights and values such as rights of advocacy and empowerments? How should such conflicts be resolved? Moreover, how are rights and discourses on humanitarian aid connected, or not? Given cultural diversity regarding questions about rights and ethics, (how) can harmonisation be achieved in a globalised world? And, given value pluralism, are ideas about universal rights to health and/or health care even tenable? Finally, are these recent and proliferating discourses that hold a considerable moral and ethical power related to national and international political and economic discourses? Is all this talk about the ‘right to health’ perhaps a rather convenient way for Western governments and international medical and pharmaceutical companies of extending their global political, economic and cultural power, as it has been suggested recently?

As historians, the organisers of this workshop we have a second aim: we wish to explore how historical knowledge about the development of rights, entitlements, duties and obligations to health and/or health care may help to illuminate the recent debates. We ask, for example, why the discourses on universal human rights did emerge in the second half of the 20th century in the first place, and began to challenge, indeed often eclipsed, the long-standing struggle over specific and civic right on a national level?

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