The words that we memorize from the United States Declaration of Independence—"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"—should serve as an impetus to us to question why, as a society, we choose to make health a commodity to be bought and sold. How can individuals have a right to life without the basic resources that ensure health, including basic housing, sanitation, clean water, nutrition, and health care? And yet, as a nation, we have struggled for several decades with the issue of how to deliver health care to all of our citizens. And if we cannot or will not deliver it within our own borders, how great could our real commitment to global health be?
In his review of the book Rights-Based Approaches to Public Health, Will Ross points the reader to the UN's General Comment 14 on the Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health: "Every human being is entitled to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health conducive to living a life of dignity." Ross goes on to describe the rights-based approach (RBA) framework that is presented in the book as one that "cannot be easily dismissed as political in nature or hegemonic." He describes the book as the editors' attempt to have "respected public health practitioners and human rights advocates…craft sensible methods of operationalizing the basic human rights principles outlined in the UN's (2003) Human Rights Based Approach Statement of Common Understanding." However, I question whether sensible strategies for operationalizing the human rights principles discussed are our major implementation problem. Rather, it seems that this is more about politics and how our democracy will act at home and abroad as the social and economic demands of an age of global connectedness press us to live up to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
Psychology is a discipline with a wealth of knowledge in decision making, conflict resolution, intergroup relations, altruism, health behavior, mental health, and well-being. Given criticisms that RBA approaches are "costly, time-intensive," and "lack solid evidence supporting their effectiveness," are we psychologists willing to support efforts to at least engage in dialogue to determine whether this framework can lift the level of the debate? Will we support advocacy on the part of the American Psychological Association even if we are unwilling to engage in such advocacy as individuals?
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