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2. Right to Life

The ‘Right to Life’ is one the cornerstone civil and political rights. It often concerned with negative duties upon states i.e. the state being bound to avoid taking the life of its citizens unnecessarily. The right to life though has, with the progression of time, become associated with positive duties incumbent upon states. States for example are required to provide adequate resources in terms of security to protect individuals.

A Developed/Developing World Split in Interpretation

The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has criticised interpretations of The Right of Life that are too narrow in scope stating that “it would be desirable for state parties to take all possible measures to reduce infant mortality and to increase life expectancy, especially in adopting measures to eliminate malnutrition and epidemics”. This represents a very liberal interpretation of the ‘right to life’ that is by no means universally shared. Despite this, the successful application of ‘the right to life’ in order to secure access to healthcare has been used sporadically in some jurisdictions. Concerning HIV for example in Mendoza & Ors v Ministry of Public in Ecuador, a court has for example held that the right to life encapsulates the right to health (see below). In that case it was stated that the right to life allowed citizens to take legal action in order to compel health authorities to enact appropriate laws to ensure that adequate resources are made available. In India, in the case, Paschim Banag Khet Samity v State of West Bengal the right to life has been used to uphold a right to emergency medical treatment. In this case (of which analogous versions have occurred around the world an individual could not find a medical facility in his locality that was willing to admit him with the result that he was forced to seek treatment in a private institution. Such cases are not however the norm. In most jurisdictions and in Europe in general under the (ECHR) a more restrictive view of the right to life with regards to healthcare. Most cases are concerned with issues such as the right to access abortion or the duty of the state to contain or restrict dangerous substances or other hazards. It can generally be sated therefore that the ability of individuals to compel states to provide medical treatment in the context of an epidemic (for example vaccinations or testing) under the principle of ‘the right to life’ will, in most jurisdictions, be limited.