Study on the Right to Health of older persons

September 8, 2011


The Human Rights Council requested the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, Mr. Anand Grover, to prepare a thematic study on the realisation of the right to health of older persons.

It also called for a panel discussion to take place during the 18th session of the Council. The debate scheduled for 16 September 2011 will contribute to increasing awareness of the existing challenges that older persons face in the exercise of their right to health, and other human rights closely related to health. It will also provide an opportunity to discuss and identify good practices and possible measures, including technical assistance and capacity building, aimed at the full and effective enjoyment of the right of older persons to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Report of the Special Rapporteur

Issues singled out in the report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health are: primary health care and chronic illness; long-term care; palliative care; and informed consent. He concludes that “the promotion and protection of the human rights of older persons should be of concern to everyone because ageing is a process which everyone will undergo. Older persons are especially vulnerable as a group because of stereotyped perceptions of the group as a ‘lapsed’ segment of society. However, as life expectancy increases and medicine improves, older persons stay active longer than ever before, both in terms of occupational and non-occupational activities. Encouraging older persons to remain physically, politically, socially and economically active for as long as possible will benefit not only the individual, but also the society as a whole.”

His recommendations are summarised below:

  • Recognizing ageing as a lifelong process, a reality which State policy, legislation and resource allocation should reflect so that health-care services, including diagnostic and prevention services, are available and accessible to a person before becoming old to allow for healthy ageing.
  • Ensuring that the right to health shapes, and is integrated into, relevant national and international policies concerning ageing and older persons. Health facilities, goods and services should be made available, accessible, affordable and acceptable to older persons, and be of good quality.
  • Implementing the right-to-health framework to ensure shifting the discourse surrounding older persons from a needs-based perspective to a rights-based approach, which enables greater realization of the right to health of older persons.
  • Encouraging the establishment and support of networks of older persons in order to ensure their participation in the development and improvement of social protection and health care, which recognizes and ensures the enjoyment of the right to health.
  • Establishing a system of social protection that affords older persons access to long-term care, whether institutional or home-based, which ensures that abuse or violations of rights do not take place.
  • Putting in place policies and procedures for reporting, addressing and preventing abuse of older persons.
  • Instituting mechanisms to raise awareness and train medical professionals, non-medical carers and the wider community on the treatment of older person, and to prevent and address their abuse.
  • Developing international guidelines and national systems to regulate and monitor hospice-care practices to ensure that the elderly are supported in making informed health-care decisions, and that their human dignity and autonomy are not neglected due to their vulnerability.
  • Establishing and implementing safeguards to ensure that free and informed consent is required for any treatment and/or other medical intervention and that this is guaranteed for all patients, no matter their age, condition and treatment proposed.
  • Developing and implementing mechanisms to protect the rights of older persons if/when they are deemed incapable of providing informed consent to any treatment and/or other medical intervention due to injury, disease or chronic conditions such as dementia.

The report can be accessed in all the UN languages from the OHCRC website: (search for HRC/18/37).

For information on human rights of older persons, see: