Áras Moyola, NUI Galway
Jan 28 2015 Posted: 16:49 GMT

The issue of delivering healthcare fairly, using a human rights framework, will be discussed at NUI Galway on 6 February. The public event is part of the The President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative and President Michael D. Higgins will open the event.

The event is being organised by NUI Galway’s Irish Centre for Human Rights and its College of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Speakers and panel experts will come from medicine, law, ethics, international development, health policy and activism backgrounds.

The panels and audience will discuss the links between health and human rights, and applications of human rights concepts and methods in addressing health challenges in Ireland and globally.

There is a growing debate worldwide about the need to conflate the issues of healthcare and the principals of human rights. Commentators see human rights as having the potential to deliver an ethical means to improve health and wellbeing for nations worldwide. With each government limited by economic constraints there is a need to decide what can and should be provided for. A human rights framework may be the ideal prism through which to view healthcare and achieve a sense of fairness.

Professor Sofia Gruskin from the University of Southern California is a world-expert on the topic and will deliver the keynote address called ‘Health and Human Rights”. Her address will identify and discuss the complex interactions between health and human rights, with particular emphasis on the use of human rights norms and standards for public health thinking and practice. Health topics including HIV, sexual and reproductive health, non-communicable disease, child and adolescent health, and health systems strengthening, will be used to illustrate and explore practical applications of human rights to public health.

Professor Michael O’Flaherty is Director of the Irish Centre of Human Rights, and co-organiser of the event: “This is a debate worth having, as the demand for access to healthcare grows worldwide. The outbreak of Ebola in parts of West Africa has thrown into sharp relief global human rights issues in terms of access to healthcare. In Ireland, debate in this area moves from access to medical cards to the need for ambulance services. Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is currently examining the system of emergency health to see if it protects and fulfils human rights, with a particular focus on the right to health.”

The afternoon session will address the ethical implications of adopting a rights based approach to health, the keynote on which will be delivered by Professor George Ulrich, Riga Graduate School of Law.

Dr Diarmuid O’Donovan, Senior Lecturer in Social and Preventive Medicine at NUI Galway, and co-organiser of the conference explained: “Public health and human rights are both concerned with improving the wellbeing of the population. The World Health Organisation describes how ‘the right to health means that states must generate conditions in which everyone can be as healthy as possible’. To make this achievable we need ethical ways to address inequalities in access to, availability, affordability and quality of both health services and other services that impact on health: a rights based approach.”

Other speakers will include: Dr Jim Browne, President of NUI Galway; Les Allamby, Chief Commissioner, Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission; Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Equality and Human Rights Commission; Cliona Loughnane, Irish Heart Foundation; Jane Ann McKenna, Médecins Sans Frontières; Dr Shaun O'Keeffe, Chair of the Clinical Research Ethics Committee, University Hospital Galway; Dr Sara Burke, Health Policy Analyst; and Professor Peter Bartlett, Professor of Mental Health Law, University of Nottingham.

Although the event is free and open to the public, attendees must pre-register. For full details of the event and to register visit http://www.conference.ie/Conferences/index.asp?Conference=409

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The President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative

The President on many occasions, prior to and following his inauguration, has said that his would be a “Presidency of ideas – recognising and open to new paradigms of thought and action” and that he would seek to develop a public discourse that places human flourishing and an ethic of active citizenship at its heart.

Over the past year President Higgins has been working with third level bodies and NGOs across the island of Ireland to create a programme of over 50 nationwide events aimed at stimulating discussion and debate on ethical themes, questions and concerns.  The initiative is due to culminate with a national seminar at Áras an Uachtaráin in Spring 2015.


The President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative is the second in a series of public seminars and reflections that President Higgins intends to hold during his term in Office

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