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.




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