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Year 2005 No. 85, June 30, 2005 ARCHIVE HOME JBBOOKS SUBSCRIBE

Discussing the Chaouilli Case

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Discussing the Chaouilli Case

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Discussing the Chaouilli Case

Workers’ Weekly Health Group

On June 9, the Supreme Court of Canada declared that private healthcare and insurance are constitutional overturning the Quebec Law that restricts private health care. The case was brought by lawyers for Dr. Jacques Chaouilli and patient George Zeliotis who argued that "the lack of timely access to provincially insured health-care services, coupled with legislative restrictions on access to private care, amounted to a violation of section 7 of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms". Section 7 of the Charter states that "everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived there of except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice".

In Canada this case has very serious implications for health workers and the working people of Canada. It has opened up the door wide for the destruction of the public healthcare system and of Canada's social fabric and for Canada's stepped up annexation to the US.

However, what seems to be of real significance is that the Chaouilli case, prior to action, has given rise to serious discussion among health workers, the working class movement and people of Canada on the real implications and issues that need to be addressed. It is this discussion, this analysis of the implications of the Chaouilli case that can and must inform the discussion and action of health workers and progressive people everywhere.

At the heart of the discussion in the Chaouilli case is that the court ruled in favour of the private health monopolies taking over the Canadian public health care system. This was done by dressing this decision up as the right of an individual to private health care using the old definitions in the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms to negate the collective rights of Canadians to their public health care system. So this case is not about the individual right to health care but it is really about the right of the health care monopolies to override public right.

Thus it is in Quebec, where the people have fought and continued to fight to provide the right to health care with a guarantee, that the struggle between the old definitions and the new definitions of human rights in the world is brought into its sharpest relief. What is this universal right of the individual that can override the right of the collective to health care?The High Court said it was the “right to life, liberty and security of the person” in the Canadian Charter Rights and Freedoms and this informed their decision. But the actual issue before the court was the possession of money by the individual to buy themselves health care. It is the conception that the individual has rights by virtue of being a moneyed human being. But this is not a conception of individual rights that has any relevance to modern society and a pro-social agenda. On the contrary it only has relevance to those that pursue the anti-social agenda and retrogression. What is the most advanced position? It is that a modern conception of individual rights views them as emerging from the humanity of the individual. The individual has rights by virtue of being human. The rights of each individual must be harmonized with each other and with the collective of humanity through social consciousness. A modern society is one that puts arrangements in place and raises the social consciousness to bring about this right for the human being and humanity to health care at the highest level.

In Britain there is no charter of rights that can be referred to in any ruling on health care but instead there are NHS values. The word “public” is either used by the government in a sneaky way to define it as “free at the point of use” so as to give the monopolies a free reign in taking over the health care provision, or it is used by old Labour circles to define merely a call for a return to the past without enshrining in law the right to a comprehensive health care at the highest level as a right and without providing those rights with a guarantee, which means providing the people with redress should they be blocked from exercising that right.

Thus government reduces the question of modernising the NHS to vague notions which claim to represent the values of the NHS. Public right is presented as the issue of giving individual “choice” in public health care provision which is really aimed continuing to support the expansion of the private monopolies in health care provision. Such “choice” is actually the “choice” of the individual to “choose” to be treated by the private health care monopolies which is presented as public provision “free at the point of use”, whilst the actual public health care services are deliberately fragmented and starved of vital resources. As in Canada, it is a retrogressive direction for society in which monopoly right trumps public right by introducing the mechanism of “choice”, whereby public funds are siphoned off to pay the monopolies, whilst private health monopoly control of the public sector and private health care insurance is expanded. In other words, everything is geared to pay the rich at the expense of public right.

The health workers movement must expose the whole direction to present the new public private partnerships, (PFI), private treatment and diagnostic centres which are making massive profits from the NHS as “public partners” in a new and “modernised” National Health Service. The government’s offensive on “choice” to the patient must be exposed for what it is an assault on public opinion and the people’s choice for a National Health Service that is completely free, comprehensive, providing prevention of ill health and the best facilities for immediate diagnosis and treatment when people become ill.

Health workers and professionals must fight for government for a modern constitution in which the right to health care at the highest level is not only enshrined in law but is guaranteed with provision for redress. As a first step health workers must demand that the government signs no new contracts with the private monopolies and a public enquiry must be launched into all their activities in the public and private health care sectors. Legislation must be passed to outlaw the involvement of the private monopolies in health care and the profits they have made reclaimed for investment in health. This is the direction in which health workers and health professionals should be involved in setting the standards of care and staffing the health service. The right to health care is a programme in which health workers everywhere get involved to end the involvement of the monopolies in health care and in the course of fighting for a such a programme contribute to the creation of a modern society that meets the needs of the vast majority of people.

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