Human rights education in patient care: A literature review and critical discussion

Roger Newham, Alistair Hewison, Jacqueline Graves, Anunpreet Boyal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

221 Downloads (Pure)


The identification of human rights issues has become more prominent in statements from national and international nursing organisations such as the American Nurses Association and the United Kingdom’s Royal College of Nursing with the International Council of Nursing asserting that human rights are fundamental to and inherent in nursing and that nurses have an obligation to promote people’s health rights at all times in all places.

However, concern has been expressed about this development. Human rights may be seen as the imposition of legal considerations for nurses and other healthcare workers to bear in mind, as yet more responsibilities with the consequent fear of litigation. Although a more hopeful scenario is that consideration of human rights is something that is supportive of good practice.

If this more hopeful scenario is to be realised, the role of education will be crucial. As with human rights generally, human rights education ) is a global phenomenon, a practice-orientated expression of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the goal of human rights education is to build a culture of respect and action for human rights for all.

However, the nature of human rights has long been contested. A ‘mapping exercise’ of the academic literature on human rights identified ‘four schools’ or ‘ideal types’ that have shaped thinking about human rights. This sets out the conceptual context in which human rights problems are defined and solutions are proposed, which is particularly important for human rights education. However, it also complicates the picture. The different approaches taken by the four ‘types’ would likely lead to different outcomes in terms of human rights education.

It is timely to discuss the nature of human rights education and examine its potential for impact on patient care. This will involve identifying the challenges and potential benefits of this approach and analysing the implications for professional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-209
JournalNursing Ethics
Issue number2
Early online date19 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Activist
  • decision making
  • empowerment
  • human rights
  • patient care
  • Original Manuscripts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


Dive into the research topics of 'Human rights education in patient care: A literature review and critical discussion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this