A Philosophical Investigation of the Ethics of Human Rights to Health

Project: Research project

Project Details


Global health ethics is a sub-field of bioethics and the philosophy of public health. One of the most important questions in global health ethics concerns the ethics of human rights to health. Rights to health are not the same as rights to be healthy. Rights to health simply refer to the obligations that governments or other agents should establish policies to promote health and prevent fatal diseases, so that suffering and premature death could be prevented. If human rights to health are universal moral rights, then everyone has these rights morally and hence there are questions about moral obligations we have to each other. On the one hand, some scholars argue that we do have moral obligations to global health and everyone has human rights to health as specified in international documents. On the other hand, some scholars argue that we do not have these rights, or these rights seem impossible to satisfy in the current conditions of the world, and so it is unrealistic to claim that everyone has human rights to health. The PI will investigate the ethics of human rights to health in this research project. Particularly, the PI will answer why human rights to health are universal moral rights.

The PI will evaluate and compare different ethical theories and seek out a moral foundation for the universality of human rights to health. The following ethical theories will be discussed in detail: the capability approach in the ethics of global development, both the feminist and non-feminist versions of the ethics of care, and different versions of contemporary Confucian thoughts. The PI will evaluate them and investigate how the interaction among these ethical theories provides a moral foundation for human rights to health, and compare this moral foundation with other ethical traditions such as Kantian deontology and utilitarianism. The PI will also reply to challenges to human rights to health from different ethical perspectives.

Although this project mainly aims at solving philosophical problems, it is also related to some practical issues, such as using and analyzing social media data pertaining to global health ethics. The PI will discuss how the practical issues in global health affect the ethical theories, apply the philosophical findings of this research project to the practical issues of global health, reply to some empirical challenges to human rights to health, and discuss how to apply these findings in the current global public health system.
Effective start/end date1/01/1731/12/19

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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