Bioethics News

Morals and Mandates: Who Is Responsible For The Healthcare Needs of Undocumented Immigrants?

By: Robyn Perry-Thomas

On January 28th, the day after President Trump’s executive immigration order was announced, airports brimmed with voices of discontent, disbelief and dismay of its consequences. Since then, a diverse array of stakeholders including teachers, lawyers, policy makers and medics have spoken out both in opposition and favour of what has been coined the president’s ‘Muslim ban’1, 2.

An important yet often-overshadowed concern is whether healthcare rights should be afforded to undocumented immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. Whilst we may safely assume that access to basic healthcare is an accepted human right, simply recognising something as a right has limited use as it fails to tell us who is responsible for fulfilling that obligation3. There are two important questions that will help to answer this problem. Firstly, is a government morally obliged to provide healthcare to all within its population? And if so, do individuals living in a country illegally surrender this fundamental right?

These questions illustrate the notions of social responsibility and legal accountability- two concepts that are often found at war with one another4. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labour Act of the United States mandates that emergency services must be available to all, irrespective of insurance status and ability to pay5. This regulation pertains to ‘legal accountability’ and is largely uncontroversial- it would take the most inhumane of individuals to argue that someone should be left to die at the door of the Emergency Department solely due to their immigration status.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.