This I Believe…

Rachel Mahoney

This week we read our final piece for course, which is also the closing chapter of Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power, entitled “Rethinking Health and Human Rights – Time for a Paradigm Shift.” In it, Farmer drives home the assertion that “public health and access to medical care are social and economic rights” that should be guaranteed to all (217).  The chapter revisits many of the grim realities faced by those who seek to ensure medical access for populations too poor, too disenfranchised, and too discriminated against to receive it.  Farmer also admits the boundaries and limitations of this goal; he writes that bureaucracy and institution will always stand in the way of human welfare as long as there is profit involved with keeping the world’s poor majority subjugated by the world’s rich minority. 

Paul Farmer’s emotive closing statements are echoed in the audio clip called “This I Believe,” which is a recording of Farmer’s recitation of an essay he wrote about the major values and objectives he’s developed while working to ensure health care and human rights to the globe’s most impoverished communities.  Originally recorded and aired on National Public Radio (NPR), the full clip and transcript is available here.

Below is one particularly moving excerpt that calls on us to join the “movement to prevent human suffering”:  

 “I believe in health care as a human right. I’ve worked as a doctor in many places, and I’ve seen where to be poor means to be bereft of rights … Of course such a world is a utopia, and most of us know that we live in a dystopia. But all of us carry somewhere within us the belief that moving away from dystopia moves us towards something better and more humane. I still believe this … We must also call attention to the failures and inadequacy of our own best efforts. The goal of preventing human suffering must be linked to the task of bringing others, many others, into a movement for basic rights.”

I hope these words resonate and stir within you the same impetus they have in me.


Dr. Paul Farmer is a founding director of Partners In Health, an international organization that provides health care to people living in poverty. Above, Farmer examines a child at a mobile clinic in Haiti.






One thought on “This I Believe…

  1. This clip is very inspiring… Paul Farmer is absolutely correct when he says we must bring the “failures and inadequacy of our own best efforts” to light. If we are unable to acknowledge our own failures when it comes to medical health rights, we will never achieve the kind of progress required to move us further away from “dystopia.”

    -Leslie Abbott

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