The right to health care

Is there a right to health care in America?

If you believe in liberty, the answer is no.

Back in the days of the Clinton administration and the attempt at health care nationalization, Leonard Peikoff delivered a lecture titled Health Care Is Not A Right. It’s well worth reading.

Speaking of the Declaration of Independence, the beliefs on which America was founded, Peikoff wrote:

The term “rights,” note, is a moral (not just a political) term; it tells us that a certain course of behavior is right, sanctioned, proper, a prerogative to be respected by others, not interfered with — and that anyone who violates a man’s rights is: wrong, morally wrong, unsanctioned, evil.

Now our only rights, the American viewpoint continues, are the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That’s all. According to the Founding Fathers, we are not born with a right to a trip to Disneyland, or a meal at Mcdonald’s, or a kidney dialysis (nor with the 18th-century equivalent of these things). We have certain specific rights — and only these.

Why only these? Observe that all legitimate rights have one thing in common: they are rights to action, not to rewards from other people. The American rights impose no obligations on other people, merely the negative obligation to leave you alone. The system guarantees you the chance to work for what you want — not to be given it without effort by somebody else.

Sometimes we see the term “positive rights,” meaning that they can be granted only if provided through positive action taken by someone else. That’s the way it is with health care: If you are to have a right to health care, it usually means that I’m going to have to pay for it.

What are properly known as rights are absolute. They are not given to you by someone else; they belong to you because you are human.

As a practical matter, the right to health care is fuzzy and fleeting. Yesterday there was a small gathering of citizens expressing their concern over the direction of health care. There was a smaller group across the street with a different opinion. I had a conversation with one lady, part of which went like this:

She said “Nobody asks to get a disease. It’s not by their choice.”

I asked her to notice my obvious condition of being overweight and the risk it carries for me to develop various health concerns. Is this not a choice I make, to be in this condition?

“Well, okay, some of that. You could argue that to a certain extent.”

I then mentioned that people voluntarily engage in risky behavior such as rock climbing. They expect government to rescue them when they fall and to mend their broken bones.

“Maybe they should be required to buy extra insurance,” she said.

So already the idea of a right to health care is starting to be qualified in several ways.

Would we accept such qualifications and conditions on our fundamental rights? I’m afraid to say that many people would — if they could get free health care, for example.

3 Comments

  • Paul Benjamin -

    OK you don’t have a what are we to do with the ill? Is it only if you don’t have money your screwed?

    Is there any space in your ideology or helping the poor? Is it your position the ill should beg? What mechanism should be used to pay for health care? The current syste is to tack it on the bill for everybody else, is that the best way?

    How about quit whining about government involvement and tell us what your ideal solution is. It is easy to be a critic hard to build a system. Lets see yours!

  • Thank you for the link to the argument against the “right” of health care provided by the government. The poster above has made the next step in the case that discussing the fundamental right is basically off the table and you should be able to provide something of an alternative if you have the audacity to disagree with the current plan.

    I think this whole argument should be slowed down to the point where we understand the underlying principles involved in both sides of the discussion. It has nothing to do with poor people. It has everything to do with everyone on an equal basis. And if it is true that it is NOT a fundamental right [and I cannot see anything in the Constitution that labels it specifically] so then there is no argument for government sponsored health care.

    However — there is nothing that would prevent the government from regulating [as it does in many industries, even before the current round of take-overs] the medical insurance industry or excessive medical costs or the outrageous cost of litigation involved with malpractice suits. All of those elements can surely be dealt with before the entire system is scrapped and medical care is provided for and administered by the Federal government. Do we really need another layer of bureaucracy or another Czar? [We have more czars than Imperial Russia had! They had 18 and we’re well over 30 and counting…] And look how the Federal government has handled Medicare and Social Security — both too corrupt and bankrupt to be considered well run by anyone.

    Let’s slow this whole argument down and discuss the rights and the multitude of solutions available to fix the specific problems surrounding the health care industry. One solution and one solution only is NOT the answer.

  • Benjamin -

    Last time I checked I didnt see stacks of dead bodies outside of hospitals because people weren’t being treated. The government should not be in the healthcare business.

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