Friday, January 18, 2008

Health Care: A Right or Commodity?

Little introduction is needed to the topic, considering the social and political climate of our nation. The question is proposed as to whether health care is a basic human right. For many, the answer to the question dictates whether a national health care policy should be implemented. The key to the argument lies in what we understand a right to be. For my argument I will appeal to the Declaration of Independence. This argument may appear outdated, but it has endured nearly 250 years while many other popular notions have come and gone.

What constitutes a right? Do rights change according to time and place? Are rights determined by their availability in a given economy? Who has the authority to determine what rights are? Or to suspend them? The Declaration sheds some light on these questions when it states that “Men… are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

The Declaration describes rights as unalienable, meaning they cannot be surrendered or transferred. These rights are innate and inherent to humanity. They come inseparably coupled with man’s ability to think, to reason, to moralize. The rights are generalized as Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. They are specified as the right of free speech, the right to assemble, the right to pursue religion, property rights, the rights of self protection, and others.

The Founders’ claim to King George III was that he could not separate them from these rights, according to the Laws of God and the Laws of Nature. Those rights came not by the allowances of men or government, but as part of the package of human existence. God had bestowed them, and no earthly power could remove them.

Compare such rights with the proposed right to health care. The argument is now common: “In a nation as wealthy as ours, it is ridiculous not to have health care available to everyone.” The point has validity, but it demonstrates that universal provision of health care does not pass the criterion of basic human rights. The argument demonstrates that one motive for extending health care as a right is its availability. Health care, unlike true rights, is not unalienable- it is subject to economics, legislatures, the locations of clinics and doctors, and the goodwill and disposition of mankind.

This is not to say that it is not our responsibility as physicians to make health care available. We do have the moral responsibility to serve our fellow man, even at sacrifice to ourselves. However, this responsibility does not make health care a right or entitlement. It is not a basic human right any more than owning a home, owning good shoes, having high speed internet, or having any other available commodity that is so easily alienable from humanity.

The true rights, God- given rights, are not commodities. They are inseparable from our natures. They are God’s gift to us to choose our course and pursue our happiness. They are not the happiness in and of themselves, but the opportunity to embark on the chase.

Health care is not a right. It cannot be expected because of human existence. However, it may be part of that happiness and security mankind is chasing. May mankind treasure, understand, and exercise their true rights to obtain it. As a physicians we must do all we can to make it increasingly catchable.

Rusty Scalpel