Debunking health care as a right


Author: Joshua Thompson

In respsonse to PLF’s announcement on this blog that it will fight “Obamacare,” a commenter writes, “Society has chosen that health care is a right. All members of society must participate as no one can afford catastrophic health care unless you are very, very rich.”

Is that true —  Can “society” simply decree that health care is a right?  Should health care be a right?

No — on both scores.  Rights cannot be created by societal fiat.  Leonard Peikoff writes:

“The American concept of it is officially stated in the Declaration of Independence. It upholds man’s unalienable, individual rights. 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.

The right to life, e.g., does not mean that your neighbors have to feed and clothe you; it means you have the right to earn your food and clothes yourself, if necessary by a hard struggle, and that no one can forcibly stop your struggle for these things or steal them from you if and when you have achieved them. In other words: you have the right to act, and to keep the results of your actions, the products you make, to keep them or to trade them with others, if you wish. But you have no right to the actions or products of others, except on terms to which they voluntarily agree.”

Why can health care never be considered a right?  On that point, PLF attorney Timothy Sandefur offers some insight:

To have a right to health care would mean that you have the right to demand that doctors and nurses take care of you, and that other people pay your medical bills for you. In the conversation with Limbaugh, Shatner implies that health care is a “right” because it is important to people’s lives—that without it, people suffer. But, of course, without a lot of things, we suffer. That does not mean that we have a right to have suffering alleviated by the services, and out of the paychecks, of others. To make that claim—to say that “where in my view something is really important to alleviating suffering, then people have a right to that thing” is to utterly obliterate the meaning of the term “rights.” Health care, like a house on the beach, is a desirable thing produced by other people. To get that thing, you must work to afford it and trade for it freely. That is the only moral route to obtaining that thing. To assert that you have a right to that thing is, in the end, to demand that other people labor to produce that thing for you regardless of their will, and we have a word for that. Hint: it isn’t “freedom.”