Book Brief: The Right to Health in International Law

John Tobin
Oxford University Press, 2012
ISBN 978-0199603299
330 pages

Tobin offers readers a thorough and necessary discussion of the current meanings and legal obligations that stem from the global responsibility to “respect, protect, and fulfill” one’s right to health. He artfully explains the evolution of the concept of health as a human right in historical, theoretical, and philosophical terms in order to describe its nature and understand its implications in a global context. The text provides a rich history of health rights based in international law and its conceptual foundations. Tobin emphasizes the needs for a methodology describing the meaning of the right to health in international law, and later provides one that relies on the persuasion of relevant parties to adopt a singular interpretation.

The meaning of health in the context of human rights is clearly explicated, as well as the extent to which states are obligated to recognize their citizens’ right to health. In order to illuminate the scope of this obligation, Tobin analyzes the pertinent example of harmful traditional practices, such as female genital cutting and corporal punishment, through the lens of international law. Tobin’s overarching argument is that although the “parameters of international assistance and cooperation are not yet fully drawn,” it is indeed possible to outline the obligations that states have in order to “respect, protect, and fulfill” the right to health that their populations possess.

-By Judith Fitzpatrick