SR Health

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

Defining the right to physical and mental health

The right to health is an inclusive right, extending not only to timely and appropriate health care, but also to the underlying determinants of health. These include:

  • an adequate supply of safe food, nutrition and housing;
  • access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation;
  • healthy occupational and environmental conditions; and
  • access to health-related education and information, including on sexual and reproductive health.

The right to health contains both freedoms and entitlements. Freedoms include the right to control one’s health, including the right to be free from non-consensual medical treatment and experimentation. Entitlements include the right to a system of health protection (i.e. health care and the underlying social determinants of health) that provides equality of opportunity for people to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health.

The right to physical and mental health is a broad concept that can be broken down into more specific entitlements such as the rights to:

  • maternal, child and reproductive health;
  • informed consent, bodily integrity and freedom from torture, ill-treatment and harmful practices;
  • healthy natural and workplace environments;
  • the prevention, treatment and control of diseases, including access to essential medicines; and
  • access to safe and potable water.

For more information on the definition of the right to health, please refer to General Comment No. 14 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.