Volume 35, 2019
Health, Well-Being, and Society
S. Matthew Liao
Human Rights and Public Health Ethics
This paper relates human rights to public health ethics and policies by discussing the nature and moral justification of human rights generally, and the right to health in particular. Which features of humanity ground human rights? To answer this question, as an alternative to agency and capabilities approaches, the paper offers the “fundamental conditions approach,” according to which human rights protect the fundamental conditions for pursuing a good life. The fundamental conditions approach identifies “basic health”—the adequate functioning of the various parts of our organism needed for the development and exercise of the fundamental capacities—as the object of a human right. A human right to basic health entails human rights to the essential resources for promoting and maintaining basic health, including adequate nutrition, basic health care, and basic education. Duty bearers include every able person in appropriate circumstances, as well as governments and government agencies, private philanthropic foundations, and transnational corporations.