To Heal Humankind : The Right to Health in History book cover
1st Edition

To Heal Humankind
The Right to Health in History

ISBN 9781138067226
Published July 11, 2017 by Routledge
240 Pages

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Book Description

The "human right to healthcare" has had a remarkable rise. It is found in numerous international treaties and national constitutions, it is litigated in courtrooms across the globe, it is increasingly the subject of study by scholars across a range of disciplines, and—perhaps most importantly—it serves as an inspiring rallying cry for health justice activists throughout the world. However, though increasingly accepted as a principle, the historical roots of this right remain largely unexplored. To Heal Humankind: The Right to Health in History fills that gap, combining a sweeping historical scope and interdisciplinary synthesis. Beginning with the Age of Antiquity and extending to the Age of Trump, it analyzes how healthcare has been conceived and provided as both a right and a commodity over time and space, examining the key historical and political junctures when the right to healthcare was widened or diminished in nations around the globe.

To Heal Humankind will prove indispensable for all those interested in human rights, the history of public health, and the future of healthcare.

Table of Contents


Chapter I. Health, Rights, and Welfare: Antiquity to the Early Modern Era

Chapter II: Enlightenment and Revolution: The Rights—and the Health—of Man

Chapter III: Public Health, Social Medicine, and Industrial Capitalism

Chapter IV: Blood and Iron and Health Insurance: Towards the Modern Era

Chapter V: The Rhetoric and Reality of Health Rights in Depression and War

Chapter VI: Postwar: Health and Death in the Cold War

Chapter VII: The Right to Health in the Age of Neoliberalism


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Adam Gaffney is a physician, writer, public health researcher, and healthcare advocate. An Instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, he practices pulmonary and critical care medicine at the Cambridge Health Alliance. He is active in the single-payer advocacy organization, Physicians for a National Health Program, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


"I can’t imagine a more timely or urgent book. Adam Gaffney’s excellent To Heal Humankind is a sweeping account of a simple moral idea: that every human being deserves the right to live a healthy, dignified life. Gaffney is a medical doctor, yet he writes like a novelist and researches like an historian. This book will be required reading and will confirm  Gaffney’s role as one of our most valued public voices." - Greg Grandin, New York University, and author of The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World

"Adam Gaffney has written the most important book yet on the right to health, its history, and its future. With breathtaking scholarship and activist values that reflect his passionate work to improve access to care, this masterpiece traces health as a human right to its ancient origins and through each phase of its turbulent history throughout the world, to the present period of debate and struggle. Gaffney moves far beyond prior efforts, and the book will become a classic that will grip the attention of anyone concerned about the right to health for years to come." - Howard Waitzkin, University of New Mexico, and author of Medicine and Public Health at the End of Empire