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Comment & Response
July 5, 2016

Public Health and Human Rights—Reply

Author Affiliations
  • 1Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA. 2016;316(1):104-105. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5250

In Reply Our Viewpoint made a specific proposal: “Formally adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the Code of Public Health Ethics.” Drs Tasioulas and Vayena seem to want to disagree, but ultimately provide additional support by asking us to comment on “2 serious challenges.”

First, it is true as a matter of law that human rights obligations are primarily state obligations. Nonetheless, nonstate actors, including corporations, nongovernmental organizations, and even intergovernmental organizations like the World Health Organization, can adopt human rights in general or the UDHR in particular as their ethical code.1,2 These actors do not have the same legal obligations as governments to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, but certainly can voluntarily agree to use them as their ethical guide. The World Health Organization, for example, states in its 2005 International Health Regulations: “The implementation of these [r]egulations shall be with full respect for the dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms of persons.”