Chaoulli v. Quebec Sparks a Patients’ Rights Revolution

Ramifications for health care reform could reach across the globe

May 8, 2006

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WASHINGTON — The one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Chaoulli v. Quebec is fast approaching, as is the deadline the court gave Quebec to reform its Medicare system. In light of this, Jacques Chaoulli, a physician and lead counsel in Chaoulli v. Quebec, revisits the case and its far-reaching implications in a new study published by the Cato Institute.

In the study, “A Seismic Shift: How Canada’s Supreme Court Sparked a Patients’ Rights Revolution,” Chaoulli dismisses the assumption that compulsory, universal health coverage is the key to universal access and to equality of care, and restates his case that government-run health care systems violate patients’ fundamental human rights.

Because Canada’s Medicare monopoly forced patients to wait for care and effectively outlawed any private health insurance, Chaoulli witnessed first-hand the suffering that violates the “dignity and the fundamental human rights” of Canadian citizens. On June 9, 2005, the Supreme Court agreed with Chaoulli by recognizing that the refusal to allow individuals to opt out of a compulsory Medicare program constitutes a deliberate state action that results in unnecessary suffering and even death of innocent citizens.

“The Chaoulli ruling,” the author contends, “dealt a blow to the very foundation of the welfare state and compulsory health insurance programs.” He predicts that compulsory government health insurance monopolies will be more difficult to enact “now that a sympathetic authority, such as Canada’s Supreme Court has made it clear that those measures violate fundamental human rights.”

Moreover, the Chaoulli ruling could influence courts in other countries faced by patients seeking to challenge regulations that result in unnecessary suffering and mortality. An example of this surfaced just last week, in a ruling by the Washington D.C. Court of Appeals. The Court used reasoning similar to Chaoulli when it reinstated a suit alleging that the U.S. FDA violates terminally ill patients’ rights to life and liberty by denying those patients access to unapproved but potentially life-saving drugs.

On Tuesday, May 9th, Dr. Chaoulli will address the issue of private health insurance in Canada at the 7th annual Optimum Reassurance Inc. Seminar on Out-of-Country Health Coverage. For details, please click here.

Policy Analysis: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=6378