The Lancet  |  May 2, 2015

Last week, The Lancet joined with the O’Neill Institute at Georgetown University to launch a Commission on Global Health and the Law. Chaired by Lawrence Gostin and John Monahan, the Commission includes legal and human rights scholars, together with health experts with wide experience of development. Our aim is to review and map the effects of law on health. We want to define why law matters to global health. We will identify the functions of the law, and investigate how those functions might accelerate advances in specific areas of health. To be sure, there will be obstacles to overcome. We will be as specific as we can be in our recommendations, making feasibility a guiding principle of our work. We want this Commission to begin a long-term partnership between the legal and health communities, one that we hope to secure and expand. My visit to Georgetown ended with an opportunity to watch former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak to an audience of students and faculty. He was at Georgetown to reflect on what the university calls “global futures”. He spoke about governance and getting things done. The rule of law, he suggested, was becoming more and more important for development. It imbued society with confidence. It eliminated the chronic fear of insecurity. And it encouraged investment. In global health, we have not seen law as an intervention to enhance human wellbeing, a commodity to save lives. But if the instincts of our Commission are correct, we should expect to see global health law emerge as one of the critical determinants of success in the era of sustainable development.

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