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Copyright (c) 2002 American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics
Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics

III. LEGAL AND HUMAN RIGHTS INTERVENTION FOR HEALTH: Co-opting the Health and Human Rights Movement

Winter, 2002

30 J.L. Med. & Ethics 705


Peter D. Jacobson and Soheil Soliman


Public health is concerned with how to improve the population's health. At times, though, actions to improve the community's health may collide with individual civil rights. For example, a public health response to a bioterrorism attack, such as smallpox, may require relaxing an individual's due process protections to prevent the smallpox from spreading. n1 This tension lies at the heart of public health policy. It also must be considered in discussing the concept of human rights in health.

n1 See the Model State Emergency Health Powers Act (December 21, 2001), available at <http://www.publichealthlaw.net/MSEHPA/MSEHPA2.pdf>. For a critique of the Model Act, see G.J. Annas, "Bioterrorism, Public Health, and Civil Liberties," N. Engl. J. Med., 346 (2002): 1337-42 (arguing that civil liberties and the need to respond to public health emergencies are not incompatible).

Proponents of incorporating the concept of human rights in health emphasize the importance of both individual rights and collective rights. They argue that observing human rights is not only consistent with broad public health goals, but necessary to their attainment. To many human rights advocates, the concept is not limited to protecting against governmental intrusion. Accordingly, they emphasize the government's obligation to promote the attainment of human rights by, for instance, providing adequate health care. Although human rights rhetoric is usually developed from an international perspective, each country must interpret and implement human rights within its own borders. Therefore, every nation will draw a unique balance between individual civil rights and community rights and ...
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