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City of Brass

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.

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