Born in 1923, Quentin Young joined the Young Communist League as a teenager in the late 1930s. From 1944 to 1947, he attended Northwestern University Medical School in Evanston, Illinois. He then fulfilled his medical internship and residency requirements at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and became a licensed physician.
From the mid-1940s through the mid-1970s, Young was closely associated with the Communist Party. In October 1968 he was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, which was probing the extent of his knowledge about the riots that had erupted at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago two months earlier. The Committee accused Young of belonging to the Bethune Club, an organization for communist doctors; the group was named after Norman Bethune, a communist physician who devoted his services to the totalitarian regime of Mao Zedong.
In the 1960s, Young was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s personal physician. In 1964 Young co-founded the Medical Committee for Human Rights, whose original mission was to advocate for medical care for civil rights workers in the South; eventually the organization would take up the cause of promoting "single-payer," government-run healthcare.
During the Sixties and Seventies, Young was active in the anti-war and civil rights movements. In 1972, while the Vietnam War was still ongoing, he led a small delegation to Communist North Vietnam.
From 1972 to 1981, Young was Chairman of Medicine at Cook County Hospital. In the late 1970s he was associated with a Marxist organization known as the New American Movement, which was initially convened by Michael Lerner.
In 1980 Young founded the Health and Medicine Policy Research Group, which favors a single-payer healthcare system; he remains the board chairman of that organization to this day.
In 1982 Young helped establish the Democratic Socialists of America, where he also continues to be a member.
In the early 1980s Young was a leading member of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington's inner circle; Washington appointed Young as President of the Chicago Board of Health.
In 1987 Young and Peter Orris founded Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), an advocacy organization that lobbies on behalf of a single-payer healthcare system; today Young is the organization's national coordinator.
In 1992 Young was honored by the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America at their annual award dinner.
In 1995 Young, who resided in Chicago, attended the now-famous meeting at the Hyde Park home of former Weather Underground terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn - the meeting where a 34-year-old Barack Obama was first introduced to influential locals as the chosen successor to Illinois State Senator Alice Palmer, a pro-Soviet radical who planned to vacate her state senate seat in pursuit of a higher elected office. Young quickly became a friend and political ally of Obama, teaching the latter about the merits of single-payer health care.
Soon after that 1995 meeting at the Ayers/Dohrn home, Young contributed $150 to Obama's political action committee, Friends of Barack Obama.
Young's friendship with Dohrn can be traced back at least as far as 1968. It is possible that it began even earlier, during Dohrn's days at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s.
In a 2009 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Young reminisced about the germination of his ideological kinship with the young Barack Obama:
"Barack Obama, in those early days [as a state senator] — influenced, I hope, by me and others — categorically said single payer was the best way, and he would inaugurate it if he could get the support, meaning [Democratic] majorities in both houses, which he's got, and the presidency, which he's got. And he said that on more than one occasion…."
In June 2004, Young and Obama made at least one joint appearance at a healthcare-related function sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America.
In January 2005, Young was disheartened to learn that then-Senator Obama had voted to confirm Condoleezza Rice as President George W. Bush's Secretary of State. Young recalls:
"When I heard about the vote, I wrote him [Obama] a letter. I told him I was disappointed in him. Rice was the embodiment of everything that was wrong with this [Bush] administration. So, he called me back and he said - why didn't you pick up the phone and call me? And he said - do you think Bush would ever send to the Senate a nominee for Secretary of State who I could vote for? I said - you are the Constitutional lawyer. It's about advice and consent, right? You should have denied him your consent."
In April 2008, Young retired from his private medical practice in Hyde Park, Chicago, which he ran in collaboration with fellow activist David Scheiner.
In April 2009, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn appointed Young to chair the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.
In December 2009, the blogger Trevor Loudon posted a list of people who, decades earlier, had signed their names to an Illinois Communist Party (CP) electoral petition for the 1976 U.S. Presidential Election. By 2009, several of those CP members had become active in the "single-payer" movement and had developed close ties to Quentin Young and PNHP.
An admirer of Fidel Castro, Young is proud that two of his children traveled to Cuba as members of the Venceremos Brigades to cut sugar cane and pick oranges. (The Venceremos Brigades were organized by Castro's Cuban intelligence agency, which trained "brigadistas" in guerrilla warfare techniques, including the use of arms and explosives.)