City of Brass

City of Brass


is there a “right” to health care?

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

In the debate over health care, and the associated debate over illegal immigration, I’ve often heard the argument that “health care isn’t one of the rights defined in the Constitution.” This argument seems to me to deny the very concept of human rights itself.

Let’s make no mistake – the present era is 100% different from the world just 60 years ago. The passage of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Geneva Conventions mark a major turning point in the entire history of humanity and civilization. That is the world we live in now and that world is better in every respect than the previous one.

The Constitution of the United States was written in that old world – but what makes it such a brilliant document is that it anticipated the new world, even though at its draftin it was still saddled with language that was a compromise to the old (in particular, the slaves are 3/5ths of a human being clause, the silence on slavery, etc.)

No, health care is not an explicit constitutional right. So what? Here’s the genius of our Fonding Fathers: rights are not defined by whether they are in the Constitution or not. No government has authority to “grant” us rights. Rights are inalienable and can be generalized as life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. It took almost 200 years for that basic truth to be made explicitly universal by the UDHR but we, as a planetary civilization, have finally managed to complete the work the Founders started.

By that standard, basic health care (ie, emergency room to treat a gunshot wound or antibiotics to cure a child’s raging fever – not sex changes or botox) is clearly a right – obviously health is the key to Life. But it’s also Liberty, in that being too poor to afford health care is in essence an economic oppression. And it’s equally obvious that being ill is an obstacle to the Pursuit of Happiness, not the hedonistic kind but rather the betterment of home and hearth, and pursuit of opportunity and self-betterment.

A basic minimum standard of care is thus in my view a universal human right as critical if not more so than free speech or religious freedom.We are a nation founded on explicitly humanistic and moral principles, therefore we have a duty to extend these rights to all persons, not just those who are citizens. We cannot argue on one hand that rights are universal and then on the other hand argue that only a priveleged class may be afforded them.

Health care can be delivered by the private secctor, of course. But insurance is the mechanism by which health care is made affordable to all, irrespective of class or status. The details are of course subject to political reality (and leadership) but denying even a basic level of coverage to any group is tantamount to a betrayal of our core values. Not liberal or conservative values, mind you, but our Founding values as a nation.



  • Alicia

    Just a quick response, Aziz. I think we would do well to get away from the concept of “rights” especially the “natural” and “inalienable” rights. Personally, I don’t believe “rights” are natural at all.
    What rights exist in nature “red in tooth and claw”? The right of one animal not to be eaten by another?
    I believe many people conflate the term “rights” with the term “entitlement.” There are obviously legal rights, because they are codified in laws. I think we should have universal health care because that is what a good society should do, not because anyone has a right to it. Sorry, this is a pet peeve of mine.

  • Taha Raja

    I tend to agree with Alicia here. There are no Natural Rights! Nature by its own definition is very unfair. Survival of the fittest is at its core. It is religion, morals, and other intellectual teachings which give us the skin of civilization.
    So yes these inalienable rights that our Founders are referring to are their interpretations of what they believe were endowed on humans by God , Allah or a superior authority that created us.
    The US Constitution is one interpretation of these rights – and a brilliant one if I may add.
    I still agree – universal healthcare should eb a must – especially the basic care that Aziz speaks about.

  • Teed Rockwell

    You can’t expect Aziz, or any other Theist, to put any significance in the fact that “Nature by its own definition is very unfair.” Both Theists and Atheists accept that NATURE is not fair. But all the Abrahamic religions accept that God is distinct from Nature, so that would not imply that rights are purely a social construct. For the Abrahamic theist, rights come from God, and God is beyond both nature and society.
    By the definitions of both of the posters above, nobody has any rights to do anything. So they aren’t taking a side on the question of whether health care is a right. I think most of us are willing to accept that if health care is as much a right as the right to worship, or freedom of speech, that makes our point.
    muslimbuddhist.blogspot.com

  • Your Name

    Golden Rule,regardless,that’s just about it!We are made for service to care for all man.

  • Alicia

    Hi, Teed. You said:
    “By the definitions of both of the posters above, nobody has any rights to do anything.”
    With all due respect, I think you missed my point. I get your point about the idea of rights coming from God, though, since I’m not sure whether God exists, that would mean rights are actually a human achievement. As an agnostic, I would say that the concept of rights is one of the greatest human achievements (if that concept is not something that came from God) but what I was trying to address was what I think is the modern confusion between rights and entitlements.
    Legal, contractual, and constitutional rights exist because people worked, sometimes very selflessly, to have them encoded into laws. Entitlements make people lazy. You don’t need to work for an entitlement, you just assert it. “I have my rights!” “I’m entitled!”
    Do you see what I am saying?
    And I agree with Aziz that it doesn’t matter whether there is a “right to health care” in the U.S. Constitution. It’s not, for me, a question of rights, but a question of working to alleviate human suffering because we can (and should). That’s why I fully support health care reform, and hope the House of Representatives will get it together and pass the Senate Bill.

  • Norris Hall

    If there is no right to health care, there can be no right to life.
    A poor woman who wants to have an abortion because her fetus has severe and expensive medical problems that she cannot afford to treat cannot be expected to give birth to the child and then have it die a few days later for lack of health care.
    It makes no sense to feign concern for the welfare of the unborn, then turn your back on it when it need medical care after it is born.
    If the child has no right to a doctor, medicines and a hospital better that it not be born than to have it die after much suffering.

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