What is a Healthcare Right?


By Philip Erwin

Tune in to any news pundit-orama these days, and you are bound to encounter bickering about Obamacare; and in many of these “frank” discussions, you are likely to hear at least one “informed” mouthpiece trumpeting this presumed “truth”:  That “healthcare” is a citizen’s right.

Ah, but is it?

Our Declaration of Independence sets forth in its Preamble the notion that the citizenry is endowed with certain rights that cannot be taken away.  The preservation (“securing”) of those rights is the purview and responsibility of government.  Indeed, it is the sine qua non of government, the whole point of having one.  And the methodology established by the Founders to accomplish securing those rights was embodied in perhaps the most carefully-crafted political documents ever written:  The Constitution of the United States, and the accompanying Bill of Rights.

Now, the “inalienable” rights explicitly listed in the Declaration are (as we should all have learned in school):  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Note:  The pursuit of happiness.  Not a guarantee of it.  Nor is your liberty guaranteed, though we have tried collectively to ensure that the liberties of the individual citizen are preserved.  And of course, none of us can be guaranteed life beyond that which we are granted by God.  .  The only guarantee given citizens regarding life is that no one else has the right to summarily end yours “before your time.”

There is no explicit mention in the Declaration of a citizen’s “right” to healthcare.  However, the Preamble does imply that there are other, unnamed rights, by the phrase, “…That among these [inalienable rights] are…”.  So it is not a Constitutionally impure thought that the Founders might have felt healthcare to be “among” the rights they intended to secure.  But they did not explicitly say so.  They left it up to us to figure that out.

So:  Let’s figure it out.

Just what is “healthcare”?

  • Good food?  Exercise?  Hobbies?  Ample, undisturbed sleep?  Yes.  These things are certainly conducive to good health.    But are they Constitutional “rights”?  Hard to argue, for example, that the parents of a colicky infant have a Constitutionally-guaranteed “right” to 8 hours of beauty sleep; or that we all have a “right” to generous daily portions of the wonders concocted by the Iron Chefs.  No, I think the reasonable among us recognize that our food, exercise, sleeping and silly-time habits are on us.
  • Money?  A pleasant, fulfilling job?  A boss you can at least stand, and maybe even admire a little?  Co-workers who don’t stiff you for the lunch tab?  You could certainly argue that these things might make you feel better, and that their absence (or opposites) can make you miserable — not a particularly healthy state of being.  But would anyone argue that all citizens have a Constitutionally-guaranteed “right” to a million-dollar job because it would make us feel better than we do collecting unemployment?  Do we expect the “right” to fire our bosses for being stupid?  It would certainly accord with pursuing happiness, which ultimately could improve our health.  But no, we don’t expect that.  We expect to work it out with the boss, or quit and seek employment elsewhere.  Again,  money and the employment situation are things the reasonable among us recognize are our own responsibility.  We might seek assistance, but the ultimate outcome is on us.
  • How about vacations?  They sure can help to overcome what ails you.  Melt the tensions, recharge the batteries, renew the spirit.  Uplifting, right?  Very healthy.  Aren’t vacations a healthcare right, since they can make such a big difference in our state of being?  Nope.  The only way you get vacations is if they are guaranteed by your employment contract.  Sadly, vacations are not an enumerated Constitutional right.

Well, then, what is a Constitutionally-guaranteed healthcare right, if indeed there is such a thing?  What would qualify?  What do Pelosi, Reid, and the Liberal Universe actually mean when they are screaming that healthcare is a “human right?”

What they mean, of course, is that you have a “right” to be treated by healthcare professionals.  That you have the “right” to be aided by the healthcare community in achieving an improved state of health.  That when you have a healthcare need, be it a toothache, a broken leg, a failing heart or a hangnail, you have á Constitutionally-guaranteed “right” to the services of healthcare professionals in order to address that need and thereby improve your state of health.

They mean that you have the right to expect, demand and receive the services of others, in order to address your health concerns.

That sounds remarkably similar to another, ancient sort of arrangement regarding humans and their activities; one with which we have some historical experience.  One which, in fact, we have determined to be abhorrent, and which therefore should be (and is) illegal.

That arrangement is called:  Slavery.

When the legal system under which you reside provides you with the ability, legally guaranteed, to expect, demand and enforce receipt of the services of others on demand, whether due to need or whim, that makes them your slave.  If you pay them some recompense, you might consider them an  indentured servant; but your servant they are nonetheless.  If you own the legal right to their services, you are, for the duration of that service, the master, and they the slave.

If you have a Constitutionally-guaranteed “right” to the healthcare services of doctors, nurses, therapists, caregivers, shrinks and masseuses, they are ipso facto your healthcare slaves.  You may share “ownership” with the rest of the citizenry; but they are enslaved to you, the citizen, by the simple fact of your having healthcare wants and needs.  If the Constitution guarantees your healthcare “right,” it necessarily also guarantees the enslavement of healthcare providers.

I don’t think that arrangement sounds very American; nor does it strike me as Constitutional.


Phil Erwin is a retired IT specialist and published author residing in Newbury Park.

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