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October 13, 2015

Responding To: WHO Director-General Continues Georgetown's Conversation on Global Governance

Duties to Care for the Other and for the Unknown

Emmanuel Foro

Dr. Margaret Chan’s lecture captures perfectly today’s concerns for “the good life.” Many principles of Catholic Social Thought are deeply related to the global health issues Dr. Chan examined in her speech. From an insistence on human dignity to the “Good Samaritan” call to stand in solidarity with all, health is a basic human right.

In the spirit of the encyclical Laudato Si’, I give first preference to the principle of the common good. Pope Francis strongly affirms the necessity of both intergenerational and intra-generational solidarities among peoples and nations. If countries stop caring about the health indicators most useful for WHO operations, or if contemporary populations ignore the implications of microbe mutation and drug resistance, we will create a dangerous breach in human responsibility for other persons and for our common home, the planet.

The Director-General also explicitly addresses individual and societal rights and duties. The most basic human right is the right to life, which is intimately connected to health. Meanwhile, below minimum conditions of well-being – which are both individual and communal responsibilities – people cannot exercise duties. The global responsibility of maintaining (at minimum) people’s lives and well-being therefore individual as well as collective and international efforts, both in daily living and in extraordinary circumstances like the Ebola outbreak and other local calamities.

Human nature remains radically social; by the same token, we are coming to realize that today’s problems cannot be addressed by any one sector alone. Dr. Chan rightly argues that “health is related to nutrition. Health is linked to environment. Health is also linked to water and sanitation. So, we need to think of a comprehensive, integrated approach to address the complex, multiple challenges the world is giving us.” Similarly, Pope Francis focuses on the need for sustainable and integral forms of development in Laudato Si’. In spite (or perhaps because) of atomizing forces in modern society, an ethic of global care is even more necessary than ever – especially toward the other or unknown.

Emmanuel Foro, S.J., is the dean at Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya, where he also teaches fundamental theology, ecclesiology, and Ignatian spirituality.

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