Welcome to a new year in the PHR student program! My name is Brendan Milliner – I’m a fourth year at Mount Sinai medical school in New York and a member of the PHR Student Advisory Board. I’d like to say Hello to all of the new members out there, and I hope the rest of you had a great summer. As we go through this year, we’re going to be talking about specific themes each month. We want to help you to understand PHR’s mission, know what your chapter can do to help, and get all of you talking and collaborating about issues of human rights and medicine. We’re going to be sending you a monthly newsletter (check your email for October), and using THIS BLOG as a way for you to get your ideas out there and talk with people from other chapters about what you are doing. We have a nationwide network of students and physicians who are passionate about issues of human rights, so let’s start using that network
This month’s topic is ‘An Introduction to PHR and Human Rights’. Here at the SAB, we don’t necessarily know why each of you joined PHR – maybe you’ve always been interested in human rights, or maybe you needed an excuse to talk to that classmate you’ve been eyeing since anatomy started (anyone?). Whatever the case may be, we want to make sure everyone is on the same page about the fundamental ideas that form the backbone of PHR’s ideology. PHR is a group of professionals and students dedicated to using our training in medicine and the scientific method to research abuses of human rights around the world and advocate for victims. Being health care professionals gives us a lot of credibility, because we can speak to the personal impact of human rights abuses with a great deal of authority.
As I see it, PHR is an organization with one foot in the world of medicine and one foot in the world of law.As health care providers, we’re grounded in our training. We are learning to understand bodies and minds in a structured and rigorous way, and that gives us a powerful grounding in the practice and tradition of medicine. The legal side of things, on the other hand, is a little less straight-forward. What human rights are we talking about, and why do we have the authority to investigate HR abuses? The legal framework for our human rights work boils down to three critical international documents:
- the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
- the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and
- the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
These three documents form the basis of the INTERNATIONAL LAW regarding human rights, and give us the legal authority to, say, denounce attacks on health workers in Bahrain or speak out about the use of torture in the US and abroad. The newsletter from this month included a video listing the rights from the Universal Declaration. To go along with that, here’s another clip outlining the rights contained in the two covenants. It’s simplified and a little cheesy, but it’s not bad as a place to start. And while you watch, I want you to take a few minutes to think about what each of these principles means and why it might be included.
Using their medical expertise to document and bear witness to violations of these rights, PHR has been able to mount extraordinarily successful advocacy campaigns and influence international law (stay tuned for another blog post about this). I joined PHR because I was inspired by this idea that as med students and future doctors we can use our training as powerful leverage for social change.So now I want to open up the floor to all of you:
- Why did you join PHR?
- What do you hope to get out of it?
- What would you like to see from the PHR leadership in the year to come, or from me in the next blog?
Leave a comment below — even just to introduce yourself — and let’s get better acquainted with each other.