Health Rights: Individual, Collective, and ‘National’: Student and Postdoctoral Fellow Pre-Conference Session


Published: 14Jun2019

The session will take place on 6 November 2019, with conference to follow on 7-8 November 2019

Location: McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Extended Submission Deadline: 30 July 2019


Recognition of rights to health and/or health care is increasingly common. International human rights law clearly recognizes a right to health care. A majority of world constitutions now recognize rights to health care. Yet even the most plausible theoretical defenses of these rights run into a classic problem facing individual rights: How does one weigh these rights against competing ‘collective’ rights and/or other non-rights-based values? This issue commonly arises in the health care setting where
(i) states are often understood to hold the correlative (imperfect) duties to recognized health rights and
(ii) national health care systems and policies can be useful means of fulfilling those duties and yet
(iii) providing the state with strong authority in the health care setting can undermine plausible collective rights, including collective rights to make health care decisions for the collective and/or use collective health care goods and
(iv) many existing legal regimes also seem to recognize these collective rights.

The sub-issues are pressing in the health care setting since their resolution can have serious consequences in the health of human beings. Indeed, regardless of whether one recognizes collective rights, there will be conflicts between individual health rights and other broader collective goods, such as the values of subsidiary, diversity, national self-determination, and cultural protections. These goods can also plausibly serve as limitations on individual health rights, if not grounds for collective rights. More broadly, individual health rights are unlikely to have any substantive impact absent some institutional setting, making recognition of health rights implicitly a concern for larger groups.

The ‘Health Rights’ conference will bring together scholars from philosophy, law, and public policy to explore how and why this may be so and the implications it should have for our understanding of the nature of rights, for health care rationing, and for the design of health care rationing institutions and law. As part of the conference, we plan to host student and postdoctoral fellows at a pre-conference and provide same with opportunities to attend and comment on papers at the conference.


The pre-conference will provide participants with feedback on pre-submitted paper drafts. Each participant will provide a brief overview of their work followed by a commentary and question period. Participants will also receive training in knowledge translation and mobilization. Some participants will then be invited to provide commentaries on papers at the larger conference as expertise allows. All participants will be invited to the conference and can provide feedback in appropriate sessions.

Eligible Speakers:

The pre-conference is open to graduate students (MA, PhD), post-doctoral researchers, and other persons who completed doctoral degrees 2 years prior to the deadline and do not hold a tenure-track position.


All participants will be expected to submit a draft paper in advance of the pre-conference, to read submitted works, to participate in discussions, and participate in post-conference knowledge translation activities. Participants will also have the option to attend the larger conference and to submit their work for possible research outcomes. They may also have the option of commenting on other works.

Questions to Consider (Non-Exhaustive):

  • What should one do when individual rights to specific health care goods conflict with collective rights?
  • What about conflicts between individual rights and greater non-rights-based community values?
  • Do sub-state units like nations-within-nations possess collective health rights? If so, what makes these units special – either generally or in the health care setting – such that they possess health rights?
  • Can the good that makes them special outweigh individual goods? Individual rights? The force of individual rights?
  • What would these kinds of rights entail as a matter of political morality? Of law?
  • What would the implications of recognition be for the design of health care systems?
  • Do these issues impact how we resolve cases (e.g., Indigenous self-governance in health care, conflicts between the value of maximizing individual health outcomes and the value of traditional medicine)?

How To Submit:

If you are interested in presenting, please submit a long abstract (750-1 000 words only) to healthrights2019 [at] by 30 July 2019. A cover page including the title of the piece and the author’s name, status, year in current position, and affiliated institution should also be included. If you would be interested in commenting even if your piece is not selected, please do let us know. The organizers will endeavor to respond to all submissions by 8 August 2019.


We cannot provide funding for travel and accommodation for pre-conference participants. Light breakfasts and lunches will, however, be provided during the conference (as will break snacks).

Funding for the pre-conference activities is provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). The conference is funded by SSHRC, the Institute for Health and Social Policy, the McGill University Faculty of Law, McGill’s Research Groups on Health and Law and on Harm Reduction, the McGill Observatory on Health and Social Services Reform, and a James McGill Chair.

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