Basic human rights apply to everyone.
THERE SEEMS to be much controversy about giving healthcare to “undocumented” immigrants—or even “documented” ones. In fact, some people believe that anyone who doesn’t have health insurance has no right to healthcare. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they are wrong. And what’s even worse is when a government not only doesn’t uphold the right, but actually violates it. For example, the treatment of migrant children on the U.S. southern border is a gross violation of these children’s basic rights on several levels. Period. Full stop. It isn’t a matter of politics or party. It’s a matter of basic human rights. Nothing that their parents do or fail to do has any bearing on their rights as human beings.
How dare I say such a thing? Let’s go back the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the United States is a signatory. What follows comes directly from the declaration:
“Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
“Article 2: Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
“Article 25: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”
Perhaps it is worth the time to refresh our understanding of human rights: Human rights are just claims to the fulfillment of fundamental, universal human needs. They don’t depend on any legal jurisdiction, but they do need to be claimed. They’re part and parcel of being human, but you aren’t less human if they’re violated. No one can live a fully human life without them, and in some cases, they can’t live at all without them.
Human rights can be violated, but they don’t go away because they’re violated. In fact, their violation demands retribution. They don’t disappear when one crosses state or national boundaries—whether or not that state or nation recognizes and protects them in their existing jurisdictions.
So, if you want to know if nurses have an ethical obligation to care for undocumented immigrants, the answer is a resounding yes. To refuse to care for them is, ipso facto, unethical.
Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN Executive Editor, Professional Outreach American Nurse Today