End-Of-Life: Is It Time for a Health Rights Act?

https://readthespirit.com/ourvalues/wp-content/uploads/sites/17/2013/03/wpid-Couple_Making_Plans_dc.jpgSo far this week we’ve discussed a specific, difficult healthcare topic: end-of-life decisions. To end the week, I’d like to broaden our discussion to consider a proposal: a Health Rights Act.

Epidemiologist George Kaplan is one of the experts saying that it’s high time for a Health Rights Act—a law that would rival the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts. Kaplan’s career spans over 30 years, with the last decade or so at the University of Michigan. He studies the impact of social inequalities on human health. Kaplan retired recently, and he was interviewed by the University’s School of Public Health. (See the full interview here.)

Health is not driven only by the choices we make or the doctors we see, says Kaplan. Through study after study, he shows that “people’s choices reflect the constraints on their lives.” Living in poor, risky neighborhoods breeds a sense of hopelessness, and “feelings of hopelessness are powerfully related to health outcomes. The progression of atherosclerotic disease in the carotid artery is faster among people who are hopeless.” The economic crisis, he says, will have severe health consequences. Losing your assets, your job, your home, your ability to invest in your children—all this takes a toll on your health. It’s time for a Health Rights Act.

Kaplan says, “I think the clamor about health insurance now is more than just people being concerned about the cost of health care. People have a sense that there’s something wrong. They may not know how to fix it, but they do have a sense that there ought to be some fundamental human rights that have to do with health, that have to do with safety, that have to do with children having futures, and that have to do with participation in society.”

What do you think? Is it time to go beyond healthcare reform to Health Rights?

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