Map from Global COVID-19 Symposium.

Global Responses to COVID-19: An Inflection Point for Democracy, Rights, and Law

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Although some of the common challenges identified across our global survey of legal responses to COVID-19 have their roots in long-established realities, the economic and social inflection point created by COVID-19 provides an opportunity, as well as an imperative, to consider how these responses will shape social norms and structure democratic institutions in the post-pandemic world.

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international connections concept art.

Key Themes in “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium: Privacy and Health Rights

By Alicia Ely Yamin

This post is the second analysis of key themes that have emerged from the digital symposium “Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law.”

1. The crisis exposes dramatically different impacts on the distinct interests protected as “privacy” rights.

Life in democratic societies is enhanced when the law protects what information and aspects of intimate personal life an individual shares with others.

But the pandemic has accelerated the use of a variety of surveillance technologies, which are now being introduced and/or rapidly expanded to trace the virus, and in turn individuals’ movements and lives. One South Korean legal expert interviewed for this symposium put it bluntly: “It looks like we’re living at the end of privacy.”

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Covid 19 map confirmed cases reported worldwide globally.

Emerging Themes from the “Global Responses to COVID-19” Symposium

By Alicia Ely Yamin

The shape of the COVID-19 pandemic and legal responses to it are changing rapidly across different contexts.  Nonetheless, many of the issues raised in this global symposium will undoubtedly be the subject of scholarly and policy debates for the foreseeable future. Here I synthesize three emerging themes regarding structural challenges and democratic design.

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LOMBARDIA, ITALY - FEBRUARY 26, 2020: Empty hospital field tent for the first AID, a mobile medical unit of red cross for patient with Corona Virus. Camp room for people infected with an epidemic.

Framing the Digital Symposium – Global Responses to COVID-19: Rights, Democracy, and the Law

By Alicia Ely Yamin, Senior Fellow

This digital symposium presents a pointillistic portrait of the spectrum of rights-related measures adopted in response to COVID-19 in dozens of countries around the world. The impulse for this symposium emerges out of the conviction that it is imperative that we emerge from the throes of this pandemic not only with the fewest possible lives and livelihoods lost, but also with democratic institutions and the rule of law intact.

That portrait will invariably evolve during the duration of the symposium, and long beyond. Nonetheless, now is the time to begin collectively reflecting on lessons regarding the relationship between population health and decision-making in emerging, consolidated, and illiberal democracies alike — and their implications for the post-pandemic future we want.

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corridor with hospital beds

3 Human Rights Imperatives for Rationing Care in the Time of Coronavirus

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Ole F. Norheim

Scholarly and official statements and publications regarding human rights during the current pandemic have largely reiterated the important lessons learned from HIV/AIDS, Zika and Ebola, such as: engagement with affected communities; combatting stigma and discrimination; ensuring access for the most vulnerable; accounting for gendered effects; and limiting rights restrictions in the name of public health.

But there is a notable silence as to one of the most critical decisions that almost every society will face during the COVID-19 pandemic: rationing scarce health care resources and access to care.

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Photograph of a button pinned to a shirt. The button reads "Fuera el aborto de codigo penal."

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: A Legal and Political Flashpoint in Today’s World

Friday, October 4, the Petrie-Flom Center will host “Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abortion Battles in Mexico and Beyond: The Role of Law and the Courts,” hosted by the Petrie-Flom Center on Friday, October 4th, provides a critical opportunity to reflect upon the progress that has been made with respect to recognizing sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as legally enforceable rights, and the role courts have played in Mexico and elsewhere.  The event could not be more timely, as the battle lines were evident at the UN General Assembly’s Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Summit and in negotiations over the “Political Declaration of the High-Level Meeting on Universal Health Coverage.” A group of countries led by the United States wanted to remove language of SRHR from the declaration and, in turn, the priorities for UHC. That effort was ultimately defeated but the debates showed the degree of contestation that these norms face in development paradigms, as well as international and national law.

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Photo of a globe with a bandage tied around it

Struggles for Human Rights in Health in an Age of Neoliberalism: From Civil Disobedience to Epistemic Disobedience

This is the abstract of a paper by Alicia Ely Yamin. You can read the full paper in the Journal of Human Rights Practice here.

By Alicia Ely Yamin

Abstract

Like other contributors to this special issue and beyond, I believe we are at a critical inflection point in human rights and need to re-energize our work broadly to address growing economic inequality as well as inequalities based on different axes of identity. In relation to the constellation of fields involved in ‘health and human rights’ specifically—which link distinct communities with dissonant values, methods and orthodoxies—I argue that we also need to challenge ideas that are taken for granted in the fields that we are trying to transform. After setting out a personal and subjective account of why human rights-based approaches (HRBAs) are unlikely to be meaningful tools for social change as they are now generally being deployed, I suggest we collectively—scholars, practitioners and advocates—need to grapple with how to think about: (1) biomedicine in relation to the social as well as biological nature of health and well-being; and (2) conventional public health in relation to the social construction of health within and across borders and health systems. In each case, I suggest that challenging accepted truths in different disciplines, and in turn in the political economy of global health, have dramatic implications for not just theory but informing different strategies for advancing health (and social) justice through rights in practice.

image of a genetic screen

How Might we Approach Discussions on the Implications of Using Genetic Data from a Human Rights or Social Justice Perspective?

By Alicia Ely Yamin and Jonathan Chernoguz

To complement the Petrie-Flom Center’s annual conference this year, Consuming Genetics, the Global Health and Rights Project at Petrie-Flom (GHRP) convened a small meeting of feminists, students, and other activists. On May 16, Harvard University’s Global Health Education and Learning Incubator , which co-sponsors GHRP, hosted the forum in conjunction with Marcy Darnovsky and Katie Hasson of Center for Genetics and Society (CGS).

Focusing on “Gene Editing, Ethics, Rights and Health Equity Issues,” and in particular the irrevocability of germline gene editing, the meeting began with Marcy Darnovsky, Executive Director of CGS asking, “How might we begin the discussion from [the perspective of] human rights, feminism, equity, and social justice, rather than from the science and biotechnology?”

This question echoed some of those posed during the Consuming Genetics conference, for example, by Jonathan Kahn in interrogating the equivocation of social diversity and empirical diversity in genomic research.  Read More

World map where continents are in blue pixels

Global Health Justice and Governance: Challenges and Proposals

A panel discussion held this week at Harvard Law School with Professor Jennifer Prah Ruger about her new book, “Global Health Justice and Governance,” with Professor Michael Stein and Petrie-Flom Center Executive Director Carmel Shachar, provided a stimulating space for transdisciplinary discussion of critical justice imperatives in today’s world.

The challenges facing global health justice—from forced displacement, to climate change, to ever-changing technologies and evolving epidemiological profiles—are far too complex for one discipline to explain or resolve alone, which makes these kinds of discussions all the more essential. Read More