Archbishop Silvano Tomasi encouraged the UN’s Human Rights Council on Tuesday to continue promoting the human right to mental and physical health. However, he challenged the Council to include religious organizations in discussions on the topic and to allocate a more proportionate share of the resources to them.
The archbishop, who is the head of the Holy See’s permanent observer mission to the United Nations in Geneva, made his comments in light of a recent report on “the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health”.
He said his delegation was pleased with the report’s identification of the right to health as a “fundamental building block of sustainable development, poverty reduction, and economic prosperity.”
A similar idea, the prelate noted, was expressed in a speech by Pope Benedict XVI, where the Pope said, “the building of a more secure future for the human family means first and foremost working for the integral development of peoples, especially through the provision of adequate health care [and] the elimination of pandemics like AIDS.”
Nevertheless, Tomasi stressed that the Holy See recognizes in addition to this the need to assure access to spiritual assistance as another condition that guarantees “the full enjoyment of the right to health.”
Religious organizations, the archbishop said, can and should play a key role in strengthening the health systems of the world.
“Such organizations often assume significant responsibility for the burden of health care delivery, most especially to the poorest sectors of the population and to those living in rural areas,” Archbishop Tomasi said. “Too often, however, these faith-based service providers are not allowed a ‘place at the table’ during the formulation of health care plans on national or local levels.”
The archbishop said that religious organizations are also deprived of an “equitable share in the resources” from both local and national budgets and international donors. Such funding, he said, is vital to health system maintenance, training and retaining professional staff, and addressing global pandemics such as HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria.
The delegation from the Holy See, the archbishop said, was pleased with the report’s inclusion of non-discrimination as a core obligation of health systems. The delegation also approved of the report’s emphasis on the obligation of governments to address the needs of disadvantaged individuals, communities, and populations.
Archbishop Tomasi took care to point out that people can never ignore or deny the right to life among the most vulnerable, such as children in the womb and those suffering from grave and life-threatening illnesses.
However, he voiced concern that references of the right to health would be interpreted to include abortion or to encourage the neglect of the sick.
“My Delegation urgently hopes that references to ‘emergency obstetric care’ will never be misconstrued to justify the forced ending of human life before birth and that the reference to a state’s obligation to ‘identify a minimum ‘basket’ of health services’ and to ‘striking balances’ will not be interpreted in a manner that denies essential services to the seriously ill,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Tomasi also criticized the report’s possible weakness in defending an absolute right to life, saying, “While the report claims that ‘few human rights are absolute,’ it is the firm belief of my delegation, Mr. President, that no compromise can be made with a person’s right to life itself, from conception to natural death, nor with that person’s ability to enjoy the dignity which flows from that right.”
The archbishop closed his address in saying that the report’s recognition of health as a public good and the need for international cooperation on health issues should direct attention to the plight of refugees, migrants, and displaced persons. He also repeated his exhortation to include religious organizations in the provision of health care.