Is There a Right to Health Care?
One way to answer this question is to adopt the stance of legal positivists, who claim there are no rights except those embodied in actual institutions through law. We would then be able to reply that, in nearly every advanced industrial democracy, there is a right to health care, since public health protections are provided to whole populations, reducing the risk of disease and injury, and institutions exist in them that also assure everyone access to needed personal medical services regardless of ability to pay. A notable exception among developed countries is the United States, where many poor and near poor people have no insurance coverage for, and thus no assured access to, medically necessary services, although by law they cannot be denied emergency services. In some developing countries, there is a constitutional right to health care, though the assertion of this legal right is often not matched by health care adequate to meet population needs. Internationally, there is a legal framework that recognizes a human right to health and health care as the result of covenants and treaties signed by many countries. This international legal framework assigns primary responsibility for assuring the “progressive realization” of a right to health and health care to signatory governments. It also affirms a duty of signatory countries to assist other states in realizing such a right.