Lost in all the political bickering over universal healthcare the past 20 years — from Hillarycare to Romneycare to Obamacare — is the most basic question of all concerning healthcare. Why isn’t it a right?
We’re told over and over again that healthcare is not a right. And we’ve simply come to buy into the notion that it’s not. The principle argument that healthcare isn’t a right is because it’s not in the Constitution. Those who would argue that are, of course, correct. But do our rights end where the text of the Constitution leaves off?
The Constitution was drafted as a blueprint for the operation of government. It didn’t really deal with rights. But Americans were hesitant to approve a new government that didn’t give them certain rights. So 12 amendments to the Constitution were drawn up. Ten of them were ratified and became our Bill of Rights, allowing for free speech, arms, privacy, due process, etc. Since then there have been 17 additional amendments, some dealing with rights and others dealing with the inner workings of the federal government.
But if you understand the basic beliefs of the American foundation, you’ll agree with me that the Constitution doesn’t grant rights. You can’t be granted a right. Rights are a social or ethical freedom or entitlement. They cannot be granted by man or government. Nor should they be restricted by the same.
So we have the right to say what we want. We have the right to protect ourselves. We have the right to privacy. Why don’t we have the right to be healthy? Or to be made healthy?
The Libertarian view of this — to which I typically subscribe — is that the rights granted in the Constitution don’t cost anything of others. Your free speech doesn’t cost anyone else anything. But demanding that someone else set your broken leg and put it in a cast costs someone else time and money.
The problem with that theory is that the 16th Amendment doesn’t grant a right at all. Instead it allows for the collection of income tax, setting the precedent that you can be charged a fee for living in America. So in order to maintain your rights, you might have to pay a price.
Back to the question, then: Why isn’t healthcare a right? At this point, it comes down to ethics and power.
The ethical thing to do is to take care of our fellow man. If someone has a broken leg and you have it in your power to fix it, an ethical person fixes it. The problem is that ethics and power are not good partners. And this country isn’t run by ethical people. It’s run by powerful people.
So when someone makes the argument to you that healthcare isn’t a right, what they’re really saying is that their money is more important than your health, your well-being. Now if that’s some guy in a bar, so be it. But if it’s someone creating laws, remember that when you go to the voting booth. Because if they’re willing to look you in the eye and brazenly tell you that their money is more important than your well-being, what might they do when they think you’re not watching or listening?
Scott Leffler is a thinker. Sometimes his thoughts differ from yours. It’s OK, you have the right to be wrong. Follow Scott on Twitter @scottleffler.