Yesterday morning, on my weekly sojourn into town for Dadcation Day, I spotted a bumper sticker in the Borders parking lot that had me shaking my head:
HEALTH CARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT
Now, health care is certainly an important commodity. I sure like being able to see a doctor when something ails me, and to get my teeth cleaned and fixed on occasion. I’m also a big fan of antibiotics, x-rays, vaccinations for the kids, and all the other medical advances that have doubled human lifespans in just a few generations. Health care is great, and I wouldn’t want to be without access to it.
But a “human right”? Hippie, please.
I have no doubt that the owner of the thusly-stickered car considers him- or herself to be educated, informed, and thoroughly on top of things. By proclaiming health care a “right”, however, he or she demonstrates a rather galling unfamiliarity with the nature of rights.
Let’s get the most obvious point out of the way first. You cannot have a right to something that necessitates a financial obligation on someone else’s part.
When you look at our Bill of Rights, which enumerates (not “grants”) a bunch of rights, you won’t find a single Amendment in there that recognizes the right to receive a material commodity, free of charge or otherwise. In order for me to let you enjoy all the rights enumerated in that fine document, all that’s required of me is to leave you the hell alone, which doesn’t cost me a penny. Your rights to free speech, to free exercise of your religion, or to be free from unreasonable search and seizure do not make the slightest dent in my wallet or my schedule. The Second Amendment refers to a physical commodity (arms), but it only recognizes that you have the right to own a gun if you have the desire and means to acquire one, not the right to get one for free from the rest of us.
If you promote health care to a human right on the same level with freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, or freedom of speech, you face an interesting quandary. Health care, unlike all those other things mentioned, is a commodity, exactly like the bread and milk on the shelf at your grocery store. That commodity needs to be created and distributed by other people. Doctors aren’t made by waving a Magic Government Wand, they are educated at medical school. Penicillin and Tamiflu don’t grow on trees in some publically-owned grove, they are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. If you have a right to all those things, then those doctors and medical companies have the duty and obligation to provide you with it.
Now picture every single doctor, hospital, and pharmaceutical plant in the country closing overnight. The doctors are sick of piling on a quarter million in student loans just to work sixty-hour weeks for crap pay and the risk of ruinous lawsuits. From sea to shining sea, every single doctor in every specialty just closes shop, and takes up basket weaving or Slabovian folk dance instead.
What happened to your “right” to medical care? How are you going to claim that right when nobody is able to provide that exam, or make you that blood pressure medication?
Oh, I know that the argument put forth by the owner of that bumper sticker would be something along the lines of “government has/should have the duty to provide it.” The problem with that, of course is that government doesn’t actually produce anything to provide. Government isn’t in the business of creating stuff, it’s in the distribution business—widget A shuffled to consumer B, for a not-so-small cut of the profits to feed all the people working in the distribution center. Government takes a resource from someone, allocates or transforms it (tax dollars to asphalt to roads, for example), and then redistributes it. The government cannot provide you with health care directly, it can only take someone’s money and pay some doctor or pharmacist to do the job. What would the government do if all the doctors in the country just didn’t want to be doctors anymore, and all the medical students followed suit as well and dropped out? If health care is a human right, shouldn’t the government then be able to arrest all those doctors and bring them up on federal charges of human and civil rights violations? If health care is a human right, shouldn’t the government be able to charge any doctor thusly who refuses to treat a patient for free right now?
In fact, why stop there? If health care is a human right, surely food has to be bumped to the same status? I mean, lack of health care means you’ll die sooner, possibly in a decade or two—but lack of food means you’ll die in a few weeks. Why don’t we just make food a human right, too, and seize the means of production over at Wonder Bread to make sure they won’t profit from their bread while people starve, deprived of the inalienable human right to stuff themselves with free starchy carbs? And why stop there? Is the all-you-can-eat buffet over at CiCi’s Pizza a human right, too? Can we bring up the folks at Denny’s for human rights violations if they dare present us with a check at the end of the meal?
Health care is important, and awesome, and I’m a huge fan of it. It is not, however, a human right. It’s a commodity just like any other product and service, and thus cannot be a right by definition. Calling it a “human right” sort of makes a mockery of the term, since actually treating it like a human right would make a whole class of professionals slaves to the rest of us.