Brazil's active judicial system has the power to define the constitutional content of the country's healthcare policy by forcing the government to embrace equal protection of the right to health. In this talk, I present the results of an upcoming chapter in which I compare the pandemic’s effect on the judicial protection of the right to health for those incarcerated and those who are free. In both cases, courts had serious incentives to take the pandemic seriously and consider its disproportionate impact on marginalized communities. The judicial system, however, has approached the COVID-19 pandemic as mostly "business as usual." For those who are free, courts endorsed a "right to everything," granting patients' requests regardless of the potentially disruptive effects on public policy, unequal access to judicial services, and pressing priorities related to the pandemic. For those incarcerated, judges upheld a long-lasting "right to nothing," remaining indifferent to the public-health risks presented by overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Brazilian prisons and denying thousands of early-release and house-arrest requests by people in prisons.
Natalia Pires de Vasconcelos is an assistant professor of law at Insper São Paulo, Brazil, and was a scholar in residence at the Rusk Center for International Law. Natalia researches and writes about social and economic rights in Latin America, focusing on the right to health and health litigation. Natalia holds a Ph.D. in Public Law from the University of São Paulo and an LL.M. from Yale Law School. She is currently a senior research fellow at the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School and one of the founding members of the Brazilian think-thank LAUT - Center for the Analysis of Liberty and Authoritarianism.