Health as a Human Right
From December 10th to 20th, Faiths Act is calling on people across the globe to host a SolidariTEA, an event designed to bring together people of diverse faiths and to highlight the importance of the human right to health.
This is an interesting idea that health is a human right. It has certain obvious limitations. No matter how you view it, our health declines steadily after about the age of 25 until one day (SPOILER ALERT!) we all die. This is perhaps the only thing that we can really count on in our lives. Our bodies are not meant to stay in good shape. They’re actually designed to deteriorate and break down. Many people aren’t particularly thrilled about this fact of life. Yet most people accept it (cryogenics ‘experts’ notwithstanding). Hopefully, we go a step beyond acceptance and allow the inevitability of death and decay to give a sense of value and urgency and beauty to the fleeting moments of our lives.
So, every moment of our lives is important because, if we’re being honest with ourselves, there aren’t that many of them. We need to squeeze meaning and purpose and virtue and accomplishment and love and family and all that into a few short years. Things like intense bodily pain, the loss of bodily faculties, the grief caused by the loss of loved ones, the poverty inflicted on the dependents of one incapacitated by disease, all render the pursuit of these important and beautiful life goals exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every human being has the right to a standard of living that allows them to be healthy and to have access to medical care and necessary social services (among other things). In many regions of world (including here in Canada), people don’t have access to health care products that are readily available where I live. We know how to deliver babies safely and sanitarily, yet hundreds of thousands of women continue to die every year in pregnancy and childbirth. Malaria is both treatable and preventable, yet malaria kills a child every 45 seconds. If we remain inactive and refuse to assist in developing capacity in people and institutions that can deliver healthcare, we remain complicit in removing moments of infinite value from the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world.
The value of every moment of our short lives also entails something else. The right of each individual to access to health care is connected to the responsibility of every individual to safeguard that right for others. I believe that the actions of highest merit and profoundest joy are those carried out in service to God and other people. So if we want to squeeze meaning and purpose and virtue and accomplishment and love and family into our short lives, the best method is to work unceasingly to ensure other people have the same opportunity.
From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha:
Soon will your swiftly-passing days be over, and the fame and riches, the comforts, the joys provided by this rubbish-heap, the world, will be gone without a trace. Summon ye, then, the people to God, and invite humanity to follow the example of the Company on high. Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God's loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord's mercy to man; to be the Lord's grace. (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, 2)