American Elephants

Is There a “Right” to Health Care? by The Elephant's Child
August 3, 2009, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Health Care, United Kingdom | Tags: , , ,

British author and physician Theodore Dalrymple had a brief and excellent essay in the Wall Street Journal asking “Is There a ‘Right’ to Health Care?” It is an interesting question at this particular time.

There are constant arguments for newly invented  rights coming from the left.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in his State of the Union Message to Congress on January 11, 1944, said that the rights guaranteed to us by the Declaration and the Constitution were no longer enough.  He went on to propose a  “Second Bill of Rights” based on “Security and Prosperity.”

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation; to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; of every family to a decent home; to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health; to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment; to a good education.

Mark Levin, from whose splendid Liberty and Tyranny I extracted this excerpt, says “This is Tyranny’s disguise.  These are not rights.  They are the Statist’s false promises of utopianism, which the Statist uses to justify all trespasses on the individual’s private property.  Liberty and private property go hand in hand.  By dominating one the Statist dominates both, for if the individual cannot keep or dispose of the value he creates by his own intellectual and/or physical labor, he exists to serve the state.  The ‘Second Bill of Rights’ and its legal and policy progeny require the individual to surrender control of his fate to the government.”

Hollywood dreams up its fantasies of world’s end with wrecked and vacant cities and perhaps inures us to the very real things that happen in this world of ours.  If we do not understand history we neither appreciate what we have,  nor grasp the possibilities of what could be.

If you do not look at the stories and pictures coming out of Iran and understand what it is like to live under tyranny, you are missing the point that is so clearly made.  Venezuela, under Caesar Chavez, is eliminating the right to free speech. Cuba, we are told,  has splendid health care, but it is only for cash-paying tourists.  Ordinary Cubans get dirty rooms and abysmal care. Tyranny doesn’t come lumbering in loudly announcing itself,  it creeps in gradually offering goodies if you will just allow those who are wiser and more important to control your life.

In Britain, Mr. Dalrymple says, the recognition of a “right” to health care has led to substandard care.

If there is a right to health care, someone has the duty to provide it.  Inevitably, that “someone” is the government.  Concrete benefits in pursuance of abstract rights, however, can be provided by the government only by constant coercion.

People sometimes argue in favor of a universal human right to health care by saying that health care is different from all other human goods or products.  It is supposedly an important precondition of life itself.  This is wrong:  There are several other, much more important preconditions of human existence, such as food, shelter, and clothing.

Everyone agrees that hunger is a bad thing (as is overeating),. but few suppose there is a right to a healthy, balanced diet, or that if there was, the federal government would be the best at providing and distributing it to each and every American.

Where does the right to health care come from?  Did it exist in, say, 250 B.C., or in A.D. 1750? If it did, how was it that our ancestors, who were no less intelligent than we, failed completely to notice it?

If, on the other hand, the right to health care did not exist in those benighted days, how did it come into existence, and how did we come to recognize it once it did?

When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination.  Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, “So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?”

When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street, other than that they have a right to health care, he is generally reduced to silence.  He cannot think of one.

The rest of the essay is to be found here.  As a physician, Mr Dalrymple has long practiced in Britain, and his reflections on the British Health Care system (NHS) are worth a great deal of thought.

14 Comments so far
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Fortunately Mr. Dalrymple lacks the power to repeal the Declaration of Independence. For that matter, so do you.

Perhaps a more important question is, what is the duty each of us has to the good health of all of us?

People should be left to die in the street? God save us from such barbarity.


Comment by Ed Darrell

Left to die in the street? Really? How many people did you pass by today dying in the streets. Me? Well none. Well, I did try to suffocate a few people with the carbon dioxide fumes of my gigantic suv, but I didn’t see a trail of dead people behind me either. Maybe though that was just because I was driving too fast.


Comment by Jay Burns

I am a Canadian and if it is my right under our Canadian Constitution why would it not be your right under the US Constitution.


Comment by Scott MacKay

Your government has said that it will give you health care. They control that, not you. If it becomes too expensive, they will ration more. That will be fine, unless they are rationing something that you need.

England is the bad example for us all. Their government doesn’t have enough dialysis machines, so they are turning away patients. They have more than 100,000 people with kidney disease, but only 34,000 are receiving dialysis or have had a kidney transplant. So, no problem unless you have bad kidneys. Some are offering patients dialysis only 2 times a week instead of 3. NHS is no longer offering steroid injections to patients with chronic low back pain to reduce inflamation. NHS currently issues more than 60,000 treatments of steroid injections a year. NICE wants that cut to 3,000.

In my stack of information, I have similar stories from France, Sweden and Canada. If I control my own health care, then I get to decide if and where I want to ration it, or forego treatment. If you want to control the cost of health care, governments will ration. The free market will control costs through competition and innovation. Much of the reason for the rise of health care costs has been the innovation of major new diagnostic tools like CT Scans and MRIs . Those machines are hugely expensive, but are saving lives every day with better diagnostics and increasing life expectancy. My son needed an MRI, wait time — 45 minutes. Something like 40,000 patients come from Canada to the US for care each year. ( I’m not sure about the number). We act as your safety valve. Your health care is run, I believe, by each province. We have had a number of state experiments — all have failed. Our government has never done a decent job with health care, and suddenly they want to run it for 330 million people from Washington? No thanks.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Elephant’s Child
Don’t know where you get your information from but it not true.
Please if you are going to talk about the Canadian Health system do some research!
Statements that are not true make all of your statements questionable
Review this link


Comment by Scott MacKay

Well, you know, “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.” It’s in the Declaration, but conservatives like to claim it as part of the “organic law” of the U.S. (no preservatives).

Today, if we are to have life, we must have health care.

Ergo, health care is a right.


Comment by Ed Darrell

And do you think food is a right? How about a home? Or shelter? A job? Are those all rights? How about dental care? Glasses? Clothes? All rights? Education? If it is a right then someone is required to give it to you, and that someone would have to be the government. And if the government cannot tax your fellow man enough to pay for fulfilling all your “rights,” then what?


Comment by The Elephant's Child

You don’t think there are unalienable rights, really? I thought you had that tattooed on your thigh.

How much does it cost to “give us” each our First Amendment rights?

Do you know what a right is? Governments were established among men to protect rights, not take them away. Sometimes it costs a bit to defend freedom. Freedom’s worth it.


Comment by Ed Darrell

You are missing the point, Ed. I believe firmly in the Bill of Rights, but it takes a lot of defending. Freedom of speech (and this particularly refers to political speech) is under attach right now, by the President and by Speaker Pelosi. Freedom of religion is under constant attack.

You won’t find health care in the bill of rights, you just wish it so. But if it were a ‘right’ then why did Massachusetts just drop 30,000 legal immigrants from the health care insurance they were promised? Or why is so much health care denied to American Indians when it was guaranteed by treaty long ago, and the two doctors in the Senate who are on the committee agree that it is a disgrace and a tragedy. If government can just take it away with a stroke of a pen — then it cannot be a “right.”


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Again, Ed, you missed the point. The Declaration of Independence describes our unalienable rights — natural rights. You will notice that “health care” is not among them. Though the Declaration is held in the highest regard as a founding document, it does not hold the force of law as does the Constitution. Neither Mr. Dalrymple nor I are talking about charity or being kind — which both of us would probably be, up to the limits of our ability. The Bill of Rights contains those rights that the people were willing to put in the Constitution and the government is supposed to defend them. which hasn’t stopped many Presidents or Congresses from defying the Constitution.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

@ The Elephant’s Child: How is the right to religion and free speech under constant attack by the President and Speaker Pelosi? I honestly would like to know.


Comment by Maya

The President’s “Town Halls” have been open only to pre-selected attendees. Even the most recent one in Montana, which was billed as being more non-partisan, saw that the largest majority of tickets went to supporters. The administration has asked that supporters “turn in” any “fishy” comments and people who were saying things in opposition to his health care plan.

Nancy Pelosi has claimed that opponents are carrying “Nazi” signs, when the only one has been a sign carrying a swastika with a line through it to indicate that the protester opposed fascism. Brian Baird (D-WA) called protesters “brownshirts.” Many congressmen have either refused to meet with their constituents or held meetings in which only supporters were informed. Many have held only telephone “town halls” were comments are easily limited. The only violence at town halls has come from SEIU (union) supporters of the President who beat a protester, and from members of ACORN. People have shouted, but in a free country they are allowed to shout.

The administration is hiring workers at $10-$15 an hour to sell the program, and plans to spend $80 million on the effort, and George Soros has kicked in another $5 million. The President promised honest debate to be available on C-Span, The entire bill available on the internet, yet he demanded that it be passed before lawmakers left for the August recess. He has made a backroom deal with the Pharmaceutical lobby that apparently guarantees that if they will cut their prices by $80 billion, then the government will leave them alone.

It is illegal for the President to make backroom deals with corporations. Freedom of speech IS political speech, and representatives are obligated to hear what their constituents have to say. Bills are not supposed to be passed before anyone has had a chance to read them — including the lawmakers voting on them. The administration is forbidden from collecting names of opponents. Laws are supposed to be made with input from representatives of both sides, reasonable discussions are supposed to be held, and the concerns of citizens heard, rather than silenced, in a free democratic republic. Most people are satisfied with their insurance, and like the care they receive, by large majorities. People have deep and legitimate concerns about what the Democrats are attepting.

If you are unaware of the attacks on religion and the free exercise thereof, you are simply not paying attention. It is demanded that crosses on public land be removed, Christmas displays removed, Christian clubs in schools that allow student clubs closed. Things like that are a constant occurrence. When the President spoke from a Catholic university, he demanded that a Christian symbol (not even a cross) be covered lest it be seen.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Ed Darrell:

So a week in Bermuda in January would make me happy, therefore I have a right to a Bermuda vacation? If I must be able to pursue happiness, I have a right to a free vacation.

I see your logic now.


Comment by Col. Bunny

No, Ed, you don’t see the logic now, because you rather obtusely decide to carry such arguments to an illogical extreme. If a week in Bermuda would make you happy, you should be free to pursue it. It is not the governments job to make sure you get it, nor should they try to impede your obtaining that goal.

Health Care is much the same. It’s a commodity, much like anything else. Basic guarantees have been put into place by various state and federal laws. I know of no hospital that has ever turned away someone who needed care, and Catholic and other parochial systems have treated patients for free for years. Because of a mandate? No, because of charity. You are free to pursue other options, but the government is not (and should not be) required to provide it to you, nor should it stand in the way.


Comment by Lon Mead

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