Par Atwal does a wonderful job reminding us about the legacy of Jonathan Mann, a dear friend and colleague. But despite Mann’s prodigious contributions, what can we say about his vision today? Certainly, his work and inspiration have virtually created the field. We believed that our course at Harvard on health and human rights was the only course of its kind. Today, not only it is a widely taught subject, but there are journals devoted to the subject, and an explosion in the field.
But beyond Mann’s undoubted contributions, what more needs to be accomplished now? First, Jonathan Mann, together with a series of colleagues in the first issue of the journal Health and Human Rights, posited that civil liberties and human rights were always synergistic. That is, one could always better protect health by defending civil and political rights. I was a coauthor on that article, but I have come to believe that it does not tell the whole story. Most of the time, focusing on a person’s civil and political rights will best safeguard health. However, sometimes there are hard trade-offs to be made between personal rights and public health. For example, there were keen debates about the Model Emergency Health Powers Act [free access].
There is another area of Mann’s legacy that needs attention: He focused mostly on civil and political rights, but there are also crucial social and economic rights, notably the right to health, which are still undeveloped. How, for example, do we know when the right has been violated? Who monitors and enforces violations? And what are the remedies? Does the right to health go well beyond medical care, as I think it must?
I am grateful to Jonathan Mann for inspiring us, to APHA for its advocacy, and to Par Atwal for his insights.