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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting nobody has commented on this post. I have never read your blog before, but its really quite interesting. This notion about healthcare not being a right.. you make an excellent point with the historical background of what a "right" is. However, there are plenty of laws/ideas that simply change over time. Society changes and shouldn't the law and government change with it? Certainly the other way around would be no good.
Also, the concept of a free market works wonderfully for most things. But healthcare is fundamentally unlike most things. It is a matter of life and death. It can be catastrophic and completely unexpected, and last a lifetime. It can stop a person from working, from functioning, change their life 180 degrees. Things like housing and food are considered part of rights because society has changed HOW we live. We live in houses and eat a certain amount to be considered healthy. We have certainly changed, like you mentioned, how we treat illness. And society/law should change with it. Private insurance through a free market has costs flying high. I am not so sure this private market model is working. Its a bit of a disaster really. Yet HMO's make bank in profits. Hospital Corp. of America is making millions of dollars in profits. Doesn't for-profit healthcare ring a moral oxymoron in your mind? It seems that patients, and those who profit from their care fit neatly into the system you described.

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a lawyer and I represent indigent clients. However, I have an MBA so I am at odds with myself lots of the time. I feel that my legal representation is a right to those that cannot affort to hire an attorney, however I feel that healthcare is not a right. We as a society created laws and the power to deprive one of their freedom. A lack of healthcare does not deprive anyone of their "freedom". Sure their quality of life or life itself may be affected, but without healthcare, their life unfolds like that of our ancestors or wild animals...naturally. As a society, we created manmade laws and this artificial creation and its implications are what necessitates right to counsel for indigents. In the wild, when a coyote steals meat from another, there is no penalty. Yet in our society, when one steals, he can lose his freedom. Sorry for the rambling... had a few totties after a long day in court/jails... :) And yes, I will be going private after I get this experience so I can earn a living.

9:36 PM  
Blogger MiamiMed said...

Thanks for the replies to the above posters.

To #1, I'd say that I don't find for-profit healthcare to be an oxymoron at all. I think it will be best provided at the lowest cost in a free market. The market is not currently free, and what we have proven is that Mixed market pseudo-socialized healthcare is expensive.

To #2, I agree with you on many ponts. What we really need to ask is "what is the purpose of law?" I would argue that it exists to protect the rights of individuals. The basis of American Law is in Lockean/Jeffersonian ideaology. All rights are negative. Essentially, the law makes man free from coercion and violence from other men. That is its purpose. Providing universal healthcare requires the taking of earned property from one person and giving it to another. That is antithetical to the basis of American law.

To both of you, laws should change with the times, but never in ways that violate the basic premise for the existance of law. If the law violates the Lockean premise, it violates the basis for American Law. If we do that, then there is NO basic philosophy of law, and the creation of law just becomes a power struggle over who can take from who, similar to the cayote analogy.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Healthcare doesn't fit the market model very well because there is imbalance of information, and the patient is quite often not a rational actor. Markets work best when the parties to contracts have roughly equal power. The doctor-patient relationship is inimicable to this - the doctor always has power over the patient.

Healthcare may not be a right, but it is a public good, along the same line as having roads. A free market system of roads might be created at lower cost, but one would probably soon find the frictional costs of collecting tolls and managing payment to multiple road providers to outweigh any efficiency benefit.

You haven't adequately gone into why mixed-market pseudosocialised healthcare is more expensive than either pure free market healthcare or socialised health care. In fact, you haven't justified your belief that free markets will provide the lowest cost health care.

8:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"you haven't justified your belief that free markets will provide the lowest cost health care"

Religious beliefs do not require justification. The writer of the blog has correctly assessed that THE MARKET is a mechanism of great efficiency. The writer being very smart has done (or will soon do) very well in under this system and so has generalized and deified this system. The writer's efficiency (read: wealth) is impinged upon by the belief's of those who worship another religion, that of (I'll be generous here and use his words) COLLECTIVISM. This religion doesn't particulary care about efficiency, but about equality. This religion has far more followers, but they have far less wealth (no surprise) and so their churches are smaller dirtier and older--an easy target.

MARKET worshipers, some as true believers, many smirking behind their masks of compassion, claim that if everyone just worshipped the MARKET exclusively that the wealth would rain down all our head: smart and dumb, healthy and lame alike. Sadly, history has shown that the MARKET god is cruel and heartless if not tempered and shackled by COLLECTIVISM. Just as history has shown that unbound COLLECTIVISM is so inefficient, nepotistic and paternal that it rots itself out from within.

Much like the blog writer I am very smart and hate inefficiency. And so I tithe at your church, but never exclusively. Monotheism is never a good thing.

6:35 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

While I wouldn't call healthcare a right, I think the government does have an obligation to step in when a company is abusing their customers.

The insurance companies are abusing their customers by accepting the premiums but not wanting to cover the high costs when someone gets sick. The customer, who paid their premiums and deductibles, now is going to die without treatment. They can't turn to the government or the company they paid, so now it's either family/friends' money or you die.

The point with healthcare in America today is that the insurance companies are abusive in their business practice. The FTC shuts down scams and abusive business practices. Why not crack down on abusive practices that lead to people's deaths?

Universal health care might not be the answer, but a stricter eye on the policies of insurance companies is a must when the balance is between the costs to save a human life versus profits.

If you don't agree with me, then you probably would agree that the government should have no place in any businesses and allow any business to take advantage of someone else (pyramid schemes, price fixing, etc.).

4:13 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

The argument is basically "Don't confer positive rights because they violate negative rights." This is ridiculous for a few reasons:

1. positive rights often exist because they're the only way to practically enforce negative rights. ex: right to counsel is a positive right to protect due process (even though it violates the negative right to property by taxing unwilling citizens).

2. Some negative rights are more important than others. (My negative right to life is probably more important than my right to bear arms or not have soldiers quartered in my home). Given that negative rights are not all equally important, it seems unlikely that the weakest negative right is still more valuable than the strongest positive right--especially when that positive right exists to protect a very important negative right. (ex: We pay taxes (a violation of my negative right to property, supposedly) to support a positive right to police protection that is necessary to preserve life and property).

Unless the author is willing to abolish our police and fire departments, means-tested right to counsel, and public education, his position is philosophically inconsistent.

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3:25 PM  
Anonymous George Melcher said...

Healthcare is something that helps you in living your life to the fullest. It's not living your life per se. That's the simplest difference I see between the two points.

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