Economic, social and cultural rights

The right to health is fundamental to human rights and is expressly referred to in a number of core international treaties.

The most significant is International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which refers to the right to the “enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is designed to ensure that people with disabilities can enjoy the same human rights as everyone else – has helped to reinforce a paradigm shift to a social model of disability, emphasising the effects of a disabling environment rather than the more traditional medical model, which focusses on disease or illness.

International human rights treaties recognising the right to health:

  • Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (Migrant Workers Convention)
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

A human rights-based approach to health:

The Right to Health Underlying healthcare determinants:

  • Availability: functioning public health and healthcare facilities, goods, services and programmes in sufficient quantity 
  • Accessibility: non-discrimination, physical accessibility, economic accessibility (affordability), information accessibility 
  • Acceptability: respectful of medical ethics and culturally appropriate, sensitive to age and gender 
  • Quality: scientifically and medically appropriate 

While there is no express right to health in New Zealand law, by ratifying the ICESCR the Government has accepted an undertaking to comply with the standards in the Convention. This is achieved by a range of laws, including legislation directly linked to the delivery of health services: 

  • New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 
  • Health and Disability Services (Safety) Act 2001 
  • Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003 and the Health Act 1956. 

Other legislation deals with specific issues, including the: 

  • Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 (MH(CAT) Act) 
  • Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act 2003 (IDCCR Act) 
  • Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act 1966 (ADA Act).