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Do People in the U.S. Have a Right to Health Care ?

Is there a right to health care?  Those that argued for a single-payer option during last year’s health care reform debates believe passionately that people do.  Opponents of the proposed legislation think just as strongly otherwise.  This accounts, to this day, for the deep divisions between those who are for and those against the Affordable Care Act.  In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll conducted earlier this month and  exactly one year since the health care reform bill was signed into law — 37 percent of those surveyed said they supported the law, while 59 percent said they opposed it. In March 2010, those numbers were nearly identical, with 39 percent supporting it and 59 percent opposing it. What is the basis for peoples’ thinking on the subject and why the deep divisions?

Those who think people are entitled to health care find validation in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, a document signed by the U.S. in 1948.  Article 25 states  that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including ……  medical care The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, a U.N. document affirmed by the U.S. in 1966, guarantees the right of everyone to the highest standard of health possible.  Since these are not formal treaties, Congress has never voted on them; and the U.S. remains one of the few, if not the only, developed nations that do not provide universal health coverage for its people.

Looking to the laws in the U.S., both sides of the argument cite The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution to support their position.  The Preamble to the Constitution declares  that we, the people, in forming a more perfect union must, among other things, promote the general welfare.  Proponents argue that health care is fundamental to a people’s welfare and, therefore, an inherent right.  In response, the opposition points out that ‘promote’ does not mean ‘provide’.

Then there’s The Declaration of Independence which states all men have an unalienable right to life.  Not providing health care, according to the rights advocates then, is denying people that right.  The opposing side, on the other hand, sees the liberty of citizens infringed upon when they are forced to provide health care for others.  The freedoms we’re granted in the Constitution, they say, don’t allow us to infringe on others’ freedoms.  As an example, they cite the fact that we can freely own firearms, but the government isn’t required to provide them. Rights people counter with the fact that even though education is not explicitly cited in the Constitution, it is necessary for our well being and, as a result, every community in the U.S. provides public schools.

Since I know people on both sides of the argument, I though I’d conduct my own ‘poll’.

Some were absolute in their opinion:
- “Access to health care is a human right.  It shouldn’t depend on someone’s financial resources.”
- “Life and death decisions should not depend on how much money you have.  If rich people can have organ transplants and expensive drugs, these should be available to poor people as well.”
- “There is no ‘right’ to health care.  People who’ve worked hard should not have to pay for others’ needs.  People will stop being responsible if they know someone else will take care of them.”
- “I don’t believe people owe others unrelated to them the right to healthcare.  I do, nevertheless, think that, voluntarily, it is the right thing to do.  Giving people, however needy, a blank healthcare check is not the way to go.”

But most of  the responses began with “it depends”.  For instance:
- “It depends on whether people have made healthy choices in their lives.  If their medical problems were caused by smoking or over-eating or drug abuse, I shouldn’t have to pay for them.”
- “It depends on whether they’re legal citizens.   Why should we pay for people who come here illegally?”
- “It depends on whether their condition is life threatening.  I shouldn’t have to pay for elective treatments like in vitro-fertilization.”
- “It depends on their situation.  How can you tell if they can’t afford it or really need it?   If something is free, people won’t respect it.”
- “It depends on how people get access to it.  If something is free and limitless, it gets overused.   Maybe an allowance system with catastrophic insurance to protect life savings would work better.”

Most people, it seems, want to help people in need, but they don’t want to write blank checks.  So, I’m thinking the better question to ask is “To What Extent Do People Have a Right to Health Care?”  Since arguing about the merits of the health care reform law is just going around in circles, why don’t we push politics aside for a moment, and address this underlying question instead?  That approach would more likely lead to the civility and compromise we crave on addressing this divisive law.   We might even solve our national health care problems.




  1. JohnT says:

    ‘Life,Liberty, and the pursuit of Happyness’
    Life is an opprotunity, not a guarantee.
    Libery is the freedom to pursue your own life, not to take from or have others take from you.
    Pursuit of happyness is the opportunity not restrictions or guarantees.

  2. JohnT says:

    Society is responsible for controlling things that effect society as a whole.
    Individuals are responsible for actions that affect the individual or their designate.
    Concerning medical aspects of our lives, Society, then, is responsible for things that affect all of us, such as vaccines, healthy working and living conditions, (ex. ‘clean air, clean water, clean hospitals, competent doctors’). Society is not responsible for actions to preserve, adjust, or correct individual health conditions.
    Individuals are responsible for decisions that affect their personal health such as balanced diets, exercise, living conditions, personal habits, and saving money for outside health aids as needed.
    Money and other forms of barter are universal in that it controls the flow of all goods and service.
    Money is and always will be limited compared to the desires or ‘considered needs’ of individuals so that choices or allocations must always be made. Health care falls within the definition of desires or needs of individuals. Modern medicine has reached a state that almost an unlimited amount of money can be allocated to a specific individual for advance medical services to improve or advance a life span.
    Therefore, Society should restrict allocation of money to those medical practices that effect society as a whole, not individuals.

  3. Tom Stanton says:

    No, I don’t think each person has a”right” to healthcare. To say yes is to say each person has a right to a handout from each neighbor for food. As a person grows to adulthood in the U.S. they become aware of what people around them are paying for healthcare insurance and what the consequences and risks are regarding healthcare. When some people decide to not spend money on healthcare, instead to spend the money on other items, why should they expect others (who may have gone without a number of items to invest in health insurance)to contribute to their health expenses.

  4. J. Rastello says:

    I lived in England for a year, under National Health. The doctor who we used was irritated by people who constantly took advantage of the system to try to get free dandruff shampoo, and to come talk to the doctor for free about their personal troubles, while sick people waited for care. I was teaching there, and as exam time approached, I got bronchitis and went to the doctor. When I asked him if I was likely to infect the children if I continued to teach, he grudgingly offered to “certificate” me, meaning that I could then stay away from work and still get paid. He was shocked when I told him that I wanted to help those kids prepare for their important national exams if I could do so without making them sick!

    People who are given too much, end up taking advantage of the givers and consider that a personal right. They don’t feel any responsibility for themselves. So giving too much to the ne’er do wells is wasteful for all. We must all learn to take care of ourselves, or society will decline by leaps and bounds.

    Our whole nation is headed that way on all accounts as it is. The government cannot give it all away, or no one will do the necessary work to support the nation.

  5. Dr.Walker Gray says:

    I totally agree with John T. He says it all in the most eloquent way!
    I applaud him!

  6. Dude says:

    Opinion polls that are about complex topics result in people’s opinions being based on the media and not what their subjective informed opinion would actually be. So the statistics are moot.

    IMO the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution don’t mean squat, as those documents are always interpreted by people in whatever way supports their values.

    If you poll people in countries currently with provided health care, they overwhelmingly support it. What do you think of that?

  7. ZammyQ says:

    Hey Dude, so let me see if I have this right: #1 Polls from countries without provided health care are suspect, but polls that are from “countries with provided health care” are okay; #2 The Declaration of Independence and Constitution is “ALWAYS” interpreted only in the way you think it is; #3 You want peoples “subjective informed opinion” as opposed to their “OBJECTIVE” informed opinion???????? Talk about lack of objectivity!

    The Bill of Rights guarantees us Americans certain rights that our government cannot take away. The right to government provided health care implies a very different kind of right, the right to demand that some other person or some other person’s proxy, “the government”, give us health care. We all have the right to provide for our own health care. None of us has the right to demand that of someone else. Providing for our own is the only health care right there is and that is the way things need to stay, particularly if the concept of limited government has any meaning.

  8. Dude says:

    “The right to government provided health care
    implies a very different kind of right, the
    right to demand that some other person or some
    other person’s proxy, “the government”, give us
    health care.”

    What do you think about public education? roads? police? military protection? FDA? Is it right or wrong for people to expect the government to provide those things for people?

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