Last year, before COVID-19 locked us all inside, a few League members and I took an NYS League-sponsored tour of the United Nations. The entire day was awe-inspiring, from the grandness of the spaces to the recognizable rooms, to the docents and speakers. If ever you have the opportunity to take a tour of the UN, I suggest you do it.
What made the biggest impression on me, however, was the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDNR). I did not know anything about this document prior to my visit. The Declaration was drafted by representatives from all over the world under the United Nations Human Rights Commission and chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt (shown in FDR Library photo below).
The UNDR was formally adopted by the UN on December 10, 1948, delineating 30 fundamental rights and is the most universal human rights document in the world. To read the full text of the Declaration, click here.
While the United States signed the UDHR, in many respects, it is not committed to it. Article 25 states:
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”
This International law provided a framework for guarantees of rights, but it isn’t enforceable in the US. Here, our rights are provided by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the US Supreme Court and the US Congress.
Some rights–like the right to an education, from Article 26 of the UDHR–are defined in some state constitutions.
But most others–such as the right to have a standard of living that supplies food, shelter and medical care–are not really recognized as rights. We fail to guarantee these rights for all people in the US.
We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee health care for all its citizens.
COVID-19 has shown us the danger of connecting medical insurance to employment. For when tens of millions of citizens lose their jobs, they also lose their health insurance (if they even had it to begin with).
What do I want?
First, I want the US to live up to the UDHR and commit to some form of Universal Health Coverage.
Second, I want behavioral health (overarching term that includes mental health) NOT to be pulled out of the “health” definition. Preventive care and the treatment of our body and mind are one and the same. Period.
Despite surveys and polls showing that a majority of Americans want some form of universal health coverage, I do not know whether the US has the stomach for the change. Why do I think this is so? One, change is scary; two, corporate lobbyists; and three, states’ rights (or local control.) And yet, we really have no other moral option than to advocate for universal healthcare. Our underperforming health system doesn’t offer access, affordability or high-quality and equitable care.
When something is broken, don’t you think we ought to fix it?