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HAT Forum - “What Does it Mean to have Human Rights?”

  • The 519, Rm 303 519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 2C9 Canada (map)

The October 2, 2017 issue of The New Yorker carried the banner headline “Is Health Care a Right” by Atul Gawande - The article addressed a number of issues:

·       A right doesn’t distinguish between the deserving and the undeserving – is that fair?

·       One person’s right to health care becomes another person’s burden to pay for it.

·       Should everyone contribute to the cost of the benefit they receive?

·       Should a society be judged by how it treats the least of its members, whether or not they contribute?

·       Does defining health care as a right become a way of undermining the work ethic and sense of responsibility?

This article was dealing specifically with health care in the US, but the questions it raises extend to many other things.

·       Do we have a right to a living wage, education, a roof over our head, food on the table, clean water?

·       What does it mean to have rights? Rights are determined by human contract – the First Amendment of the American constitution protects several basic liberties — freedom of religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly.

·       The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects our right to be treated equally under the law, to not be discriminated against because of age, gender, religion, sexual orientation or disability. It also protects fundamental freedoms, namely freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

·       There continue to be attempts to expand the coverage -  the Manitoba government recently voted down an opposition attempt to expand human rights protection to people who are overweight or have dwarfism

So, what does it mean to have a right? Are there such things as inalienable rights? Does the definition of an inalienable right depend on a belief in a deity? Do only humans have rights? Should our society refuse to have dealings with governments who violate “human rights?”