Legal Rights, Constitutional Controversies, and Access to Health Care: Lessons From Canada
Medicine and Law: World Association for Medical Law 2006 March; 25(1): 45-57
This paper provides a critical analysis of the use of legal claims to assert rights to access health care. Using Canada's system of public health insurance as an example, the paper discusses two significant Supreme Court of Canada cases in which claimants use legal mechanisms to influence health care reform. While one case seeks to expand the range of services covered by public health insurance, the other challenges the government "monopoly" over health care and advocates an expanded role for private health care. These legal claims play out in an adversarial setting where the focus is on the rights claims advanced by individual litigants. Yet, the outcomes of these cases involve broad implications regarding allocation of scarce health care resources and the very structure of the health care system. This paper discusses the benefits and limits of using legal claims in this context and also considers the role of courts in making decisions that may have the effect of constraining policy options available to government decision-makers.
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