Patient Care

How is patient care a human rights issue?

Patients are entitled to the full range of human rights. Health care providers must respect each patient’s dignity and autonomy, right to participate in making health care decisions, right to informed consent, right to refuse medical treatment, and right to confidentiality and privacy. The attention, treatment, and care that each health care provider gives to a patient must respect the human rights of every one of his or her patients.

The human rights-based approach to patient care draws from standards contained in the international human rights framework, which are often mirrored in regional treaties and national constitutions. It differs from patients’ rights, which codify particular rights that are relevant only to patients. Human rights standards apply to all stakeholders in the delivery of health care—including both patients and care providers.

A human rights-based approach seeks, above all, to uphold the inherent human dignity of all actors in the care provider-patient relationship. This relationship can be a complex one, especially when coupled with health care delivery. For example, as medicine becomes ever more advanced, providers and patients must work together to make diagnostic and therapeutic decisions. Financial and quality issues are always present in health care delivery and can lead to inequality and discrimination. Greater understanding is needed of the social determinants of health that straddle the lines between traditional medicine and a broader concept of health, as well as of the interdependence of the right to health and the realization of all human rights. A human rights-based approach uses the human rights framework to analyze these elements of patient care, among others.

(Source: Health and Human Rights Resource Guide, François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health)

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