Right to Health: A Fundamental Right

The Constitution of the World Health Organization states that “The enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition”.

The right to health implies that:

  • Everyone should have access to the health services they require,
  • As and when and where they need them,
  • without suffering financial hardship.
  • No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need.

Right to Health: Indian Scenario

Article 21 of the Indian Constitution guarantees the protection of life and personal liberty to every citizen.

The Supreme Court which is the guarantor of the fundamental rights has held that the right to live with human dignity enshrined in Article 21 derives from the directive principles of state policy and includes protection of health. The Supreme Court has also held that the right to health is integral to the right to life and the government has a constitutional obligation to provide health facilities.

International Commitments

India is also a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The provisions of Article 25 [2] of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 7 (b) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have been cited by the Supreme Court while upholding the right to health. Further, these covenants find a mention in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of The Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993.

Fifteenth Finance Commission

‘Health and Education’ is the special theme of the Fifteenth Finance Commission. The Fifteenth Finance Commission had set up a high-level group to explore and give recommendations for a balanced expansion of the health sector. The recommendations of the committee include:

  • India must have a fundamental right to health and the Right to Health must be declared a fundamental right on the 75th Independence Day in 2022.
  • The Constitution must be amended to shift the subject of health from the state list to the concurrent list so that both the Centre and states can have a role in policy implementation and changes.

The idea of making healthcare a right in Indi has been debated for long now. But the main challenge is defining the “Right to Health” explicitly and the capacity of the state to fulfil the commitment because once declared a fundamental right, irrespective of the economic capacity of the state, state would be obliged to provide it.

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