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Sakharov Debate 2020 "Health, human rights and public trust" - 27/11/2020


Nearly all policies affect health and well-being, whether for good or for ill. Optimally protecting population health may, among other things, require regulating manufacturers to reduce air pollution, protecting children’s health by controlling the advertising of junk foods, or closing bars and cafes to reduce chains of disease transmission. In Europe, some of this is done nationally, some sub-nationally and some jointly by countries acting through the EU.  

While the EU has long been committed to systematically considering the implications for all policies on population health and health equity, the World Health Organisation and many NGOs go beyond this, arguing that health is a human right. Nonetheless, policies that put health first have often struggled to gain sufficient acceptance from across the political spectrum, not least where different levels of policy intervention are involved. Communities from businesses, to libertarians, to political conservatives, to privacy activists, and the alt-right have all expressed scepticism about what they perceive as the encroachment of the state in ways that is either counter-productive or itself threatens rights. COVID has further exacerbated these tensions.

Health policy is at a crossroads. Where does the right balance lie between individual freedom and the collective good? At what level – regional, national or European – can that collective good best be served?  Are better ways available of making the case for prioritising health to sceptical audiences? Does advocating for health as a human right help? And can trust be maintained in interventionist health policies in the face of minorities who object to them?

Hashtag for the event: #SakharovUK



Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety
European Parliament


Professor James WILSON
Professor of Philosophy
Faculty of Arts & Humanities
UCL Philosophy

Prof Deenan Pillay
Prof Deenan Pillay

Professor Deenan PILLAY
Pro-Vice-Provost (International)
Professor of Virology
University College London



Presenter and reporter
France 24, Classic FM, Monocle24, and BBC London News


The European Parliament UK Office organizes a debate to mark the awarding of the Sakharov Prize. The debate is open to the public and will be hosted jointly with UCL European Institute.

More on Sakharov Prize and laureates