Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Right to Life vs. The Right to Healthcare: How are They Not the Same?

The right to life is part of a broader spectrum of deep-seeded belief that is highly prevalent in western thinking. The origins of this idea can be traced back atleast as far as John Locke, who wrote that all men are given the right to "Life, Liberty, and Property." Locke, an Englishman whose writings go back the mid 1600s, believed that government existed by a social contract based on these rights.

Later, Thomas Jefferson wrote about "Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness," in The Declaration of Independence. This was a throwback to Jefferson's Lockean philisophical underpinnings. Jefferson argued that men are "endowed by their creator," with these rights. In effect, these rights cannot be argued away because they are given by God. However, it is apparent by the number of athiests who still believe in these rights that belief in God is not necessary to believe in these natural rights. The text of the Declaration of Independence effectively bases the entire existence of the USA on the right of a people to overthrow a government that does not respect the natural rights first proposed by John Locke.

Though there were doctors in the 1700s, they were sometimes rare and usually relatively ineffective. In fact, many men would have lived were it not for the actions of their doctors, giving them toxic compounds or bleading them to death. The right to life, even at the founding of the United States in 1776, had nothing to do with healthcare. It also had nothing to do with welfare. There were no accompanying proposals to provide every American with free healthcare in the 1700s. No such proposals were ever seriously made until the 1900s. Obviously, no one who was involved in the making of early American philosophy or law saw the right to life as being in anyway connected to a right to medical treatment.

I have heard it argued by many people that the right to life encompasses all sorts of things. It is used as a justification for almost anything. A person needs shelter to live, a person needs food, some people need healthcare, and I've even heard it argued that the right to life means a low stress life because stress can kill you over time. Of course, none of these things have anything to do with what Locke or Jefferson meant. Obviously no one lives forever, and this was never meant to be an argument that no one should ever die. Life, liberty, and property (or the pursuit of happiness) exist without any action. A man who is left alone in a forest or on a deserted island has all of these things. He is alive, he has the liberty to do as he pleases, and whatever property he takes or manipulates is his (be it a stick, a house he builds, a fishing pole, or anything else). This man also has the the right to pursue happiness, as he will inevitably attempt to do things that bring him pleasure over those that do not.

The Lockean (and later Jeffersonian) rights are all negative rights. They exist in a vacuum. Everyone has them unless they are taken away. This stands in contrast to positive rights that have to be taken from someone else. In fact, attempting to give someone positive rights usually infringes on the negative rights of someone else.

Let's think for a second about the majority of the new "rights" that the United Nations and many individual countries have attempted to confer upon all of humanity. These include things like healthcare and a "living wage." These things violate the negative rights of others. Because healthcare doesn't exist naturally, it must be created. To confer healthcare as a positive right, it must be confiscated. For example, in Canada, a physician must work for the pay of the government insurance. He has lost his liberty to work for himself. He has lost his right to pursue happiness if he believes that operating a private pay healthcare enterprise will make him happy. Without interference, he has all of these things. The government has taken his natural rights away in order to confer an unnatural right on to whoever is receiving the care. The government also pays for this with taxes, which are confiscated property. For those that did not want to pay these taxes, they have lost the right to property. Similarly, the "living wage" must be taken from someone in order to be received by the worker. The employer loses his right to property and liberty.

Thus, the right to life doesn't equal the right to healthcare. Life is mostly infinite in the sense that it can exist without outside action, while healthcare is scarce. One has a natural life. It may be artificially extended or benefited in quality by healthcare, but this is not what is referred to by Locke or Jefferson as a natural right. Healthcare, like any othe commodity, responds to scarcity. It doesn't exist unless it is created, and creating more healthcare costs more human energy (and thus more money). Like all things which are scarce, its creation and distribution will be infinitely more efficient on a free market.