Whether we are dealing with the health and treatment of our loved ones or ourselves, we look to health care providers and institutions to help us at our most vulnerable times. Health care is more than just repairing broken bones, it is about creating spaces where people feel safe and respected. This Global Ethics Day, we are reminded about the values and goals underpinning our health care systems. Western medicine has long recognized four key ethical responsibilities of those involved in health care: autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice.
Over the past year and a half, it has become increasingly evident that justice is a value significantly lacking in our current health systems. The Coronavirus pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the systemic disparities present both within and across countries and cultures. On a global scale, we have lost approximately 4.5 million people, and no community has been spared from its impact. It has become apparent, however, that while this virus does not discriminate based on identity or access to resources, health care systems can.
The Healthy People initiative, originally launched to promote health equity and eliminate health disparities in the U.S. defines disparity as “a particular type of health difference that is closely linked with social, economic, and/or environmental disadvantage.” Overcoming disparities present within our systems poses a significant challenge, yet with each challenge we are also presented opportunities. An opportunity for growth and change, to move away from a model based on privilege and to embrace the guiding principle of justice.
Each person’s understanding and experience of good health and good health care varies based on their religion, culture, and background. Justice is not about finding a definition that everyone can agree upon, but rather giving everyone the same opportunities and choices to be healthy. Tanenbaum offers numerous resources and services to help eliminate disparities and promote health equity, including our Creating Inclusive Spaces Fact Sheet and our Curricula for Nursing Education, which covers topics from acknowledging unconscious bias to providing religio-culturally competent care for patients.
The path to health equity is long and arduous, but it is ultimately necessary. The U.S. health care system has demonstrated that increased spending does not translate to better health. However, when people are given the opportunity to make informed choices and become active participants in their care, outcomes improve. While we work towards health equity, it is important to note that we must first change how we think about health care, recognizing that it is not something to be earned, but is a fundamental right for every human regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status.
Maria McQuade, Health Care Program Senior Associate