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Your body is next: NHS cuts are an assault on our human rights


Image taken from the Human Rights in Health Care website, which states the under The Human Rights Act (established October 2000) that all public authorities, including NHS organisations, have an obligation to respect and promote peoples' human rights, which is sorely missing from the current NHS cuts discriminating against smokers and the obese.By Dr. Dana Mills, AnyBody Activist

Over the past few weeks, we have woken up to various pieces of news which employ the term “obesity” in their headlines. First, we are told, the obese cost the country more than the cost of the war on terror[1]. Then, we were told, the NHS in Devon is cutting down its funding by way of barring operations from smokers and the obese[2]. These two pieces of news are two sides of the same coin. They are the sign of the retraction of the welfare state from our lives and a continued and targeted assault on our human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights starts from the right to life[3]. It elaborates this right as a right to medical care, as stated in article 25:

“(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care[4] and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”

These rights, fundamental to our basic standard of living as well as our ability to flourish as human beings, are under an incremental but powerful attack by the current government and its funding cuts. The right to health care with no discrimination is one of the pillars of the human rights regime, and attack upon it is the worrying sign of the British government’s recession from its commitment to accountability towards its own citizens. Discrimination in access to health is a human rights violation[5]

Further, this assault should be read in the context of other connections, less popular in the daily headlines but just as important for the British citizens’ understanding of their relationship with their state as protector of their basic human rights. There have been many connections between private for-profit organizations focussing on weight loss and the NHS[6].

On Thursday, August 8, 2013, BBC2 broadcasted, “The Men Who Made Us Thin”[7], a documentary about the weight-loss industry. In the first episode, presenter Jacques Peretti captures on tape Richard Samber, former Weight Watchers (WW) finance director, acknowledging the statistics provided throughout the show, according to which only 16% of consumers using WW diets maintain goal weight over five years, and acknowledging that WW survives financially by the other 84% “who have to come back and do it again”. It may be further argued that WW sustains itself financially through creating non-consensual consumption of its product. This argument may be pushed more by drawing on a range of other evidence. In her evidence in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image, Zoe Griffiths, Head of Public Health at Weight Watchers, swiftly shifts between health-based arguments and arguments presenting the company as aiming towards inducing weight loss[8].

Thus, we must return and read the discourse around obesity as effacing, growing a dependency of the British health care system upon private corporations, and further privatization of basic services without transparency of this process towards the citizen turned consumer[9]. Whenever the next headline emerges which employs the term “obesity” the reader should be worried. Not for their BMI (Body Mass Index) definition as obese or not, or other such terms often used; but by the consistent and focussed assault on their basic human rights and further liberalization of our most basic societal support networks. It is not obese we should dread becoming; it is the self-interested, insular human beings to whom the state is no longer accountable and for whose rights there is no legal protection. We are all on the way to becoming those human beings. Your body is next. 

Editor's Note: Shortly after publishing, the BBC reported that NHS Devon will drop the proposed surgery bar on smokers and the obese. 



[3] Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

[4] Emphasis added.

[5]  More information about the connection between health care and human rights can be found at British Institute of Human Rights Further, previous work on the connection between health care and equal access to human rights can be found at "human rights are about how public authorities, such as NHS organisations, must treat everyone as human beings"; "the bottom line is that human rights, like the right to life, are not a gift the NHS staff can give to patients. NHS must respect the law and all the rights contained in the Human Rights Act in everything that they do”.


[7] 45:06

[8] “A when you come to Weight Watchers and reach a healthy weight we support you free for the rest of your life, and the reason we do that is because we know that evidence shows that when you continue the support, of however it was that you lost weight in the first place, that is a key indicator for long-term success and that’s why we’ve build the system. We want you to come to Weight Watchers and when you reach your goals, to come back and regularly check in, check up on your weight, check up on your healthy behaviours so that you can sustain that weight loss”.

[9] It should be mentioned in this context that the funding towards human rights in healthcare has been discontinued since 2013. 

Reader Comments (1)

Thanks for sharing!
December 15, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFindia group

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