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“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.”

MLK quoteMartin Luther King, Jr. Day is a day of service, celebration and reflection on this country’s progress towards equality and justice.  Dr. King is attributed for stating, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

I have looked into finding out the origin of this often quoted remark and it appears that I’m not the only one.  It has been connected to a speech Dr. King made at a medical conference for human rights in Chicago on March 25, 1966. But, as it turns out that no one has actually seen this speech in writing.

A few years ago, Amanda Moore, Staff Attorney at the Shriver National Center on Poverty Law did an in depth investigation to try to track down the actual manuscript in which this famous statement might be found.

Moore wrote about her efforts in the Huffington Post.  When she reached out to the archivist at the King Library, the person actually “began to chuckle” because Moore was not the first  to call in search of the primary source of the quote. The archivist in fact had never come across of Dr. King’s remarks from that day in Chicago.

Moore spoke to several other experts; among them Dr. Quentin Young who was the National Chairman of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, in 1966 who had heard Dr. King’s remarks first hand at the group’s convention.  Moore writes:

“…[Young] confirmed that Dr. King had indeed made such a statement but noted that Dr. King actually called injustice in health care “inhuman,” an adjective Young found stronger than the commonly (mis)quoted “inhumane.” Young said that Dr. King was speaking spontaneously at the time.”

While the quote in its original form can’t be found in writing, it’s clear that if Dr. King were alive today he would be fighting for access to health care. He would believe that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

MLK wikipedia

In 1966 when Dr. King spoke about healthcare as a civil rights issue, structural racism and poverty led to staggering health disparities among African Americans. Unfortunately, this issue still remains a problem in our society today, but we’re making strides through the Affordable Care Act.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the uninsured rate is at its lowest in history and less people are stressed about paying their medical bills for the first time in years.  In Connecticut, the uninsured rate dropped by half to four percent; and we know through an independent evaluation report that more people of color are accessing healthcare for the first time.

In the last month of the second enrollment period, we’re able to close the uninsured gap even further in Connecticut with over 108,000 more residents signing up for healthcare under the State Healthcare Exchange. Seventy-eight percent of those newly enrolled in healthcare are part of Connecticut’s expanded Medicaid program.

On a day like today, it is important to reflect and learn from the progress we’ve made and honor the leaders who sacrificed so much.

As someone who’s been working on health justice issues for more than a decade, I often think about what Dr. King would think about our progress in healthcare today?


(Second) Image credit: Wikipedia

About Heang Tan

Heang Tan is the project director and editor for HealthJusticeCT. You can find her tweeting about health equity and other random things @heangtan

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