How is health-related "deservingness" reckoned? Perspectives from unauthorized im/migrants in Tel Aviv

Soc Sci Med. 2012 Mar;74(6):812-21. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.06.033. Epub 2011 Jul 20.


Do unauthorized im/migrants have a right to health? Do they deserve health care, or health protection, or access to the social determinants of good health? Are they party to prevailing social contracts, or does their exclusion from mainstream systems of health promotion, prevention, and care "make sense"? Questions like these, which generate considerable attention in multiple spheres of scholarship, policy, and public debate, revolve around an issue that merits substantially greater consideration among social scientists of health: health-related "deservingness." In addition to putting the issue of health-related deservingness squarely on the map as an object of analysis, this article further argues that we cannot focus solely on those with power, influence, and public voice. Rather, we also must investigate how deservingness is reckoned in relation to--and, furthermore, from the perspectives of-- unauthorized im/migrants and members of other groups commonly constructed in public and policy discourse as undeserving. Additionally, we must consider the complicated relationship between universalizing juridical arguments about formal entitlement to health rights, on one hand, and situationally specific, vernacular moral arguments about deservingness, on the other. The paper analyzes findings from a 29-month mixed-methods study conducted in Tel Aviv, Israel, that approached unauthorized im/migrants as subjects, rather than simply objects, of ethical deliberation. Participants' conceptions of health-related deservingness are investigated using two sources of data: (1) quantitative findings from a self-administered, closed-ended survey conducted with 170 im/migrant patients at an NGO-run Open Clinic (2002-2003), and (2) qualitative findings from the larger ethnographic study of which the survey was part (2000-2010). The study findings both (1) contradict commonly circulating assumptions that unauthorized im/migrants are "freeloaders," and (2) highlight the need for rigorous investigation of how unauthorized im/migrants, among other marginalized and vulnerable groups, conceptualize their own relative deservingness of health-related concern and investment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • Female
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Human Rights*
  • Humans
  • Israel
  • Male
  • Medical Assistance
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals
  • Politics
  • Public Opinion
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sociology, Medical
  • Time Factors
  • Transients and Migrants / psychology*
  • Vulnerable Populations / psychology
  • Young Adult