Should Healthcare Be a Human Right?

Drew Ramsey, MD


July 10, 2017

Drew Ramsey, MD: Is healthcare a fundamental human right? Here at the American Psychiatric Association (APA) Annual Conference, I was surprised to learn that the United States is the only high-income country that does not make healthcare an essential right. However, a bill is afoot that may change that. I caught up with Dr Eliot Sorel, who's spearheading a movement to help make healthcare a fundamental human right.

Dr Sorel, there's been movement in the APA to help make healthcare a fundamental human right. Can you give us an update on this project?

Eliot Sorel, MD: Yes. The latest in this project is that the APA Assembly considered this past Sunday, May 21, the first action paper on "Healthcare Is a Human Right." The paper was evaluated and reviewed by a reference committee that edited slightly the paper to read that healthcare, inclusive of mental healthcare, is a human right. That edit was catalytic to a robust debate in the APA Assembly. The debate centered around the insertion of mental health in the topic.

Some colleagues think that the insertion of mental health is an act of self-deprecation—of being biased against ourselves, stigmatizing ourselves by including mental health in the content. Others thought that no, mental health belongs there, because when American policymakers make health policy, they do not think about mental health. Therefore, we need to state it clearly so that they do not omit it.

The debate was robust and solid, and at the end of it, the paper was practically unanimously adopted by the APA Assembly.

Dr Ramsey: What's the next step for action?

Dr Sorel: The next step for the paper is to be reviewed by the Joint Reference Committee of the APA. They may leave it as is. They may raise some questions. They may get in touch with me if they have any questions for me to respond to.

The next step would be to go to the APA's Board of Trustees before it becomes a position statement of the APA, and then to be presented to the wider public and possibly the policymakers at the federal and state levels.

Dr Ramsey: The APA will be the first medical organization to create an action paper like this. What do you hope the effect would be?

Dr Sorel: The effect is already being noticed—namely, I wrote a companion piece that was published on April 14, 2017, in Psychiatric News.[1] The title of that accompanying piece was "Health: Inherent to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness." I received many inquiries both from my students and my colleagues at George Washington University, as well as from policymakers in the United States Congress. I was glad to discuss this with some of them.

Of course, this is not, as I said, yet a policy of the APA. The idea is in the public domain now, by virtue of having been published in Psychiatric News.


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