Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Susan Holman: Patristic voices in modern ‘right-to-health’ discourse: Notes on a controversy

Recent scholarship on poverty, disease, hunger, and health care in late antiquity has raised many questions about, and led to innovative models for, the conceptual ‘translation’ of patristic texts for modern 21st century public health. This Short Communication will focus on the least explored and perhaps most controversial argument we find in some patristic texts on social justice for the sick poor: that of human rights. The role of patristic studies in engagement with ‘right-to-health’ discourse is a theme directly relevant to faith-based medical NGOs and healthcare workers today whose values are rooted in the Christian history of patristic traditions. The paper will briefly compare and contrast texts from Chrysostom, the Cappadocians, and Lactantius, with the 20th century history and codification of modern economic, social, and cultural (ESC) rights, particularly Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the modern standard on the right to health that shapes international global and public health discourse today. While Lactantius and the Cappadocians clearly support human rights equity for health, the curious history of a 1917 translation of Chrysostom’s sermon on Paul’s “collection for Jerusalem” speaks into a secular social work context using the more common alternative focus on ecumenical compassion to affirm human dignity. Understanding these conceptual intersections may encourage modern faith-based NGOs engaged in medical ministry and social justice to work toward constructive healthcare delivery models that respect both modern human rights and enduring religious values for public and global health.

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