198714 Water as a negative right: A philosophical argument against water as a commodity

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Randall L. Horton, MA , Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX
This presentation will make a philosophical argument that access to clean water is a negative right (a liberty interest that must be protected) and that any interference with such access is unjust and morally indefensible. Access to water cannot be a positive right, or entitlement, to be granted by governmental or corporate agencies as neither has a legitimate claim on water and can therefore not be in a position to provide what already is shared property of the world's community. Rather, the only legitimate role of authority is to protect water and ensure that cooperative activities to distribute, use, or redirect water are done only as a means of securing this negative right. Water is not a commodity, and no industry can claim a right to it. This does not prevent businesses and other cooperative enterprises from providing services to maintain, collect, or distribute water for profit, but individuals and groups would always have a right to pursue other means of securing, cleaning, and distributing water. When conflicts arise and in the case of water shortages, the proper role of governing bodies is to ensure that the greatest number of individuals possible receives adequate access to water. In extreme cases of drought, every individual has an obligation to ensure that the right to water is protected as broadly as possible. The presentation will include case studies of unjust practices and instances where the right to access was protected, including the current redistribution of water to drought-plagued areas in China.

Learning Objectives:
1. Assess the status of water as a commodity using the language and philosophical foundations for negative and positive rights. 2. Analyze arguments for just distribution and protection of water. 3. Evaluate current or recent actions that either respected or failed to respect the right to clean water.

Keywords: Advocacy, Human Rights

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am currently a PhD student at the University of Texas Medical Branch. My research focuses on issues of social justice and conditions that negatively impact global health. My background is in philosophy and I teach college-level philosophy. For the spring semester of 2009, I will be teaching medical ethics, philosophy, and English at Peking University Health Science Center.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.

See more of: Ethics SPIG Round Table
See more of: Ethics SPIG