University of Minnesota
Human Rights Program

Human Rights Program's home page.

Kirk Allison


Mayo Memorial Building c-397

Kirk Allison

Kirk Allison, BA, BS, MA, MS, PhD is a scholar dedicated to the understanding and advancement of the intersection of Human Rights and Medicine, two disciplines that have not always been approached in tandem even though they are intimately linked. He currently serves as the Program Director of the Program in Human Rights and Medicine. A proponent of the diffusion of human rights study across the university, Allison views human rights as a discourse that, like his own field of Public Health, has the potential to spread through all disciplines, strengthening and diversifying the ways in which human rights is approached and implemented around the world. Seeing the limitations of practically implementing human rights principles as the field’s biggest challenge, Allison incorporates into his undergraduate and graduate courses discussions and real-world examples of the manifestation of issues of implementation on the ground in war-torn areas and within vulnerable populations.

Allison’s publications center on discussions of science and ideology, interdisciplinarity, and the concept of human dignity in relation to disability. His writing in these fields began with his Ph.D dissertation research at the Deutches Literaturarchiv in Marbach, Germany, in which he investigated the social location of physician-poet Gottfried Benn’s (1886-1956) medical specialties in relation to his literature and ethical relations to the Hippocratic ethical tradition; the confluence of eugenics, aesthetics, and politics. His interest with and involvement in the intersection between human rights and healthcare continued to deepen over the years, and in 2003 he served as a consultant for the Human Rights Library study guide “The Right to Means for Adequate Health.” In subsequent years collaborative projects have included investigations of the uninsured, and in 2004 produced a policy recommendation review for the Minneapolis Department of Health & Family Support and the Hennepin County Human Services & Public Health Department. A tireless and dedicated champion of human rights both at home and abroad, Professor Allison has also presented testimony to state legislative committees on topics such as “Genomics, Ethics and the Public Representation of Science” and “Stem Cell Research Policy: Is Ethics or Science Primary?”

An incisive and pioneering academic, his recent and ongoing health and human rights-related research includes analysis of physician attitudes toward health care financing systems; studies of health care outcomes by institutional profile as well as epilepsy-related health disparities in the American Indian community; analysis of the relationship between human rights and health including with regard to disabilities; investigation of human rights and organ harvesting/procurement in China. Works currently in progress include "Lithuanian Family Economics, Religion, and Health Outcomes," and “Does mental health parity affect insurance switching? A choice-model analysis.” Allison is also a vocal adherent to the principles of human rights; he is continuously active in public engagement, remains attentive to policy decision making concerning healthcare, and maintains a critical perspective of the effectiveness (and follies) of institutionalized approaches to human rights. This combination of research and advocacy has made Allison an archetype of human rights activism.

Written by Jenny Cafarella.

Honors and Awards


Major Publications

  • Improving the rhetoric of rationing. Part 1. Part 2. Health Affairs Blog, 2013.
  • What sorts of people should there be?  From descriptive to normative humanity. International Journal of Disability, Community and Rehabilitation 5:2, 2013.
  • Determinants of father-child time and family labor allocation. Academy of Business Journal 11, 2012.
  • Hospital religious affiliation and outcomes for high-risk infants. Med Care Res Rev 2012.
  • Race hygiene, eugenics and the Holocaust: Antecedents and consolidations. New York and London: Routledge, 2011.

Courses Taught

  • Health and Human Rights
  • Global Health, Relief, Development and Religious and non-Religious NGOs
  • Scholarly Inquiry in the Health Sciences - Research ethics component.
  • Human Rights, Leadership, and Public Health
  • From Eugenics to Deadly Medicine and Back