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Health care and rights, continued...
In a previous column, I made the point that health care was not a basic right. I received some pointed criticism for that position. The importance of the underlying precepts of “rights,” requires further consideration of the issue.
Unalienable rights endowed in us by our creator are documented in the Declaration of Independence. The phrase, “all men are created equal,” is a part of the statement of rights. The “all men” phrase does not limit that inclusion to American colonists. Thus it is appropriate to note that “rights” are endowed in all men, not just those fortunate to live in this country. Things get a little more confused when we recognized that few nations have mastered and properly adopted the relationship of citizens, rights and their government. It also gets a bit more difficult to argue that our societal norms are universal rights.
In the discussion of what might or might not be a right, it is important to establish that a “right” must be universal, must be equally available for exercise by all and it may not deprive the rights of one for the benefit of another. Simplistically, a right does not exist for anyone until that individual ensures it for all others.
One of the “rights” brought forward by my critics to justify health care is the “right to life.” Unfortunately, that argument is not valid. The right to life includes a long series of basic freedoms that allow individuals to be the master of his destiny. The destiny is not guaranteed. The opportunity to seek that destiny is. If the “right to life” included guaranteed health care, it would also have to include guaranteed shelter, food and clothing, for they are higher on the priority list for basic human survival. These three basics are not “rights,” nor are they guaranteed. The common factor for food, shelter, clothing and health care is that each is achieved as a result of personal effort and is realized in direct relationship to that effort.
To provide the proposed right of health care for all, it would have to be universal and equally available. All would benefit. Unfortunately, only some would be denied rights of property and effort to pay for the care of all. Such a situation is directly contrary to the basic understanding of rights. Conversely, if all (a society) agreed to provide for universal health care, that would establish an entitlement through a societal norm, not a right. I would argue that in the United States we have established that societal norm for health care and now we are debating how much health care, who provides the health care, and who pays. Those issues are not subject to debate for a “right.”
Comparing free speech, a free press, freedom of religion, protection of property and liberty with free health care is a nonstarter. Exercising basic freedoms imposes no cost on any other or limits their rights in any way. If health care is a “right,” how is the level of “rightful” care determined and who makes that determination? Who pays the price for that “right?” How do we decide who is allowed health care, if rights are universal? The issue is not “should all people be afforded some level of basic medical care?” because most would agree the answer is yes. That is a far different question from “do all persons have a right to health care?” to which the answer must be no such right exists.
Finally, one critic chastised me for accepting health care under a military retirement plan or Medicare while “denying” health care to others. First, I do not have the power to deny anybody anything they want. You get what you want by earning it. Second, my current health care coverage is an earned benefit gained by the direct result of my personal effort. It is a matter of contract and payment for services rendered. My compensation throughout my working life was offset by the terms of the contract and I am simply collecting that offset now. You might disagree, but that is the bargain you made. You certainly didn’t hesitate to demand that I honor my part of the contract.
Jack Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.