Recent health and human rights literature

Public health foundations: Concepts and practices
Elena Andresen and Erin DeFries Bouldin, editors
Jossey-Bass, 2010
ISBN 978–0–470–44587–7 (paperback)
520 pages
Based on an introductory course at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, this multi-contributor textbook covers public health history, development, and organization (chapters 1–2), analytic tools and methods (chapters 3–10), behavior and health (chapters 11–13), health services and social determinants (chapters 14–16), and forecasting the future of public health (chapter 17). Each chapter includes learning objectives, case studies, key terms, review questions, and a glossary. An online password-protected instructor companion site ( has links to additional chapter-specific tools, including a “test bank” and lecture slides. [SRH]

Religion and the global politics of human rights
Thomas Banchoff and Robert Wuthnow, editors
Oxford University Press, 2011. ISBN 978–0–19–534338–0 (paperback)
324 pages

Health care programs in resource-poor settings often rely heavily on faith-based organizations (FBOs) and FBO-supported volunteers and related personnel to provide both global humanitarian aid and structural medical support and education. These two new volumes are among the more affordable faith-based academic books on human rights that are likely to influence such organizations and individuals, and thus merit the attention of those who work in the health and human rights field regardless of sectarian alliance. The essays in Banchoff and Wuthnow offer a broad scope of global rights issues relevant to a range of major world religions, although only two chapters (on women’s rights in Islam [chapter 4] and sub-Saharan Africa [chapter 6]) relate directly to health. The essays in Witte and Alexander (for which all 20 contributors are men) focus on various aspects of a single tradition with more explicit relevance to global health. Themes of interest include human freedom (by Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu, chapter 1), the impact of Vatican II on human rights as it affected Latin America and the UN declarations that continue to shape the global economy of health (by J. Brian Hehir, SJ, chapter 5), the rights of children (chapter 14), the rights of women (chapter 15), and the right to clean water (chapter 17). [SRH]

Removing the barriers to global health equity
Théodore H. MacDonald
Radcliffe Publishing

MacDonald identifies neo-liberal policies as the fundamental cause of growing inequities in global health. Over nine chapters, he examines in detail the impact of neo-liberal paradigms on such global health issues as access to water, pharmaceutical corporations, the effects of war, and food supply. MacDonald makes an impassioned case against current economic practices, and in his final chapter offers suggestions, including uptake of Jeffrey Sach’s Ten Proposals, as a means of overcoming the obstacles to global equity in access to health. He concludes with the hope that his dream of social equality and mateship around the world is not hopelessly naïve. [CW]

The good doctors: The Medical Committee for Human Rights and the struggle for social justice in health care
John Dittmer
Bloomsbury Press, 2009
ISBN 978-1-596-91567-6 (hardcover)
384 pages

Bancroft Prize winner John Dittmer tells the story of the medical group who sought justice in health care during the seminal events of the fight for racial equality in 1960s America. Members of the Medical Committee for Human Rights provided medical help to civil rights activists, exposed discriminatory practices in the American Medical Association, and helped desegregate hospitals. With graceful writing, engaging testimony from participants, and vivid detail on the accounts of people and events, Dittmer takes readers through the health care workers’ involvement in the major events of the civil rights movement, including the Freedom Summer; Selma, Alabama; the Democratic National Convention in Chicago; and Wounded Knee, all of which were battlefields for the health care activists who believed health care to be “inadequate, unjust, racist, and in need of a major overhaul.” His account is a stark reminder that the right to health care is not a foregone conclusion, and has bearing on the struggle for health and human rights that continues around the world in 2011. [JM]

Justice for hedgehogs
Ronald Dworkin
Belknap Press, 2011
ISBN 978–0–674–04671–9 (hardcover)
506 pages

Ronald Dworkin’s new book explores the philosophical components that comprise “a theory of what living well is like and what, if we want to live well, we must do for, and not do to, other people.” Arguing that justice requires a theory of liberty and resource equality, Dworkin sets forth how political morality must be re-ordered before such a theory can move into action. The book’s title is based on the thesis that moral justice is a single truth without foxy complexities; chapters posit this justice, one that is “moral all the way down” as shaped comprehensively within the interdependent kinetics of truth and skepticism, “the metaphysical independence of value,” the ethics and morality of dignity, and political rights and concepts. [SRH]

Global health and human rights: Legal and philosophical perspectives
John Harrington and Maria Stuttaford, editors
Routledge Research in Human Rights and Law
Routledge, 2010
ISBN 978–0–415–47938–7 (hardcover)
219 pages

Based on three UK Economic and Social Research Council-funded seminars, these essays explore the relevance of health as a human right in a world where political shifts have resulted in “a drastic reduction of social guarantees in many countries.” Chapter themes include the relevance of justice, the experience of the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, South Africa’s pioneering right-to-health jurisprudence, the moral ethics of ancillary care as it pertains to research, and health sector corruption. Together, the essays demonstrate the central role that right-to-health rhetoric plays in contemporary social and political reform. [SRH]

Human rights and climate change
Stephen Humphreys, ed. Cambridge University Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-521-76276-2 (hardcover)
331 pages

This collection of essays responds to the absence, identified in a foreword by Mary Robinson, of a human rights perspective on climate change. The 11 chapters argue for human rights criteria to be built into future planning, so that the rights of those most at risk from climate change, consistently those whose rights are already precarious, can be identified and protected. Former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health Paul Hunt and Rajat Khosla demonstrate that the right to health serves as a bridge between the domains of the environment and human rights, particularly because states are required to adopt laws and programs that tackle the adverse effects of climate change in order to protect individuals’ and communities’ health. Editor Stephen Humphreys concludes that climate change will transform much of the world’s legal, political and physical landscape, but this provides an opportunity to think more broadly about how to amend and extend rights protections into this new global society. [CW]

Epidemiology and the people’s health: Theory and context. Nancy Krieger
Oxford University Press, 2011
ISBN 978–0–19–538387–4 (hardcover)
381 pages

Theory matters; this claim is the heart of Nancy Krieger’s new book. Although public health concerns and interventions are based on the science of epidemiology (which measures the incidence and transmission of disease in populations), the underlying theories that shape how people measure disease patterns and distributions can have sweeping consequences—for good or ill—on the health of a large number of individuals in society. In this dense but highly readable volume suitable for health practitioners and public health students at any level, Krieger moves from the basic question, “Does epidemiologic theory exist?” (chapter 1) to examine historical examples (chapters 2–4), outline mainstream and alternative theories (chapters 5–6), present her ecosocial theory of disease distribution (chapter 7), and demonstrate how theory counts (chapter 8). Extensive figures, tables, case studies, and references are woven within the narrative. [SRH]

Inherent human rights: Philosophical roots of the Universal Declaration
Johannes Morsink
Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009
ISBN 978–0–8122–4162–4 (hardcover)
319 pages

Best known for his comprehensive history of how the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was drafted (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), Johannes Morsink focuses his new book on the fundamental idea at its root. He argues that the “human rights” described and set forth in the UDHR are—and were historically understood at the time to be—inherent rights that exist across cultures independent of political and juridical context. Among the implications such a view has for political application today, he suggests, democratic procedures must go beyond giving human rights lip service in their founding documents. They must recognize and remain subject to the mandate of these conceptual foundations to consistently enact justice and rights as they relate to health care and the problems of economic poverty. [SRH]

Health and social justice
Jennifer Prah Ruger. Oxford University Press, 2010
ISBN 978–0–19–955997–8 (hardcover)
276 pages

Jennifer Prah Ruger invites the reader to envision a world where health policy allocated resources such that all persons could realize their maximum capabilities for health. But before such a dream might be realized, Ruger argues, policy makers must pass federal legislation that ensures equity in health. This book, based on the author’s 1998 dissertation directed by Amartya Sen, offers an ethical framework for putting this ideal into practice by applying capability theory to health and social justice, with a focus on domestic health care reform. The book’s four sections include: a review of current approaches to public health and medical ethics as they have shaped health policy (part 1), a new theoretical model, the “health capability paradigm” (part 2), discussion on how this new approach and paradigm might be applied to domestic health policy (part 3), and a summary of its relevance for domestic health reform (part 4). [SRH]

Responsibility for justice. Iris Marion Young
Oxford Political Philosophy
Oxford University Press, 2011
Foreword by Martha C. Nussbaum
ISBN 978–0–19–539238–8 (hardcover)
193 pages

Among those who legislate and influence assistance programs, a dominant view (often the one that shapes good and services) has tended to blame personal rather than social forces for the economic poverty that cripples so many who come to need such assistance. In these seven related essays, complete but unrevised at the time of her death in 2006 and here introduced by Martha C. Nussbaum, political theorist Iris Young argues against compartmentalizing such assumptions. She draws on cases and historical models to show how both social structural injustices and personal factors together influence responsibility for what affects how poor persons can (or cannot) change their economic options. Carefully distinguishing “blaming” from responsible accountability, she challenges assumptions while eliciting a suggestive framework for her successors to further develop a model based on social connections, domestic as well as cross-border responsibilities as they touch on global poverty and need. [SRH]