With the problems surrounding both the launch of the Healthcare.gov website and all of the unintended consequences surrounding the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), it is important to remember that healthcare, in and of itself is not a right. Just because we “want” something or feel we are “owed” something, does not make is a “right.”
To delve into this topic, we must understand and agree upon the definition of “rights.” Here, I use it in the same way as did our Founding Fathers and the framers of our Constitution. The philosopher, John Locke, put forth the concept of natural rights, which states everyone is born with an equality of certain rights, regardless of their nationality. Since they come from nature or from God, natural rights cannot be justly taken away without consent.
For the sake of this discussion, let us not get bogged down in a theist v. atheist argument. Even the Founders made sure to side-step this by using the terms of both God and nature (see an excellent article written by Eric Wojciechowski here). They were very clear: natural rights are not granted by man or by government, they exist solely by one’s own existence.
The Founders believed that one of the primary roles of government was to protect the natural rights of its citizens, which include those mentioned in the Declaration of Independence: the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as well as those specifically enumerated in the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. They were of one mind in this respect. Though several of those present at the drafting of our nation’s Constitution believed it unnecessary to add the Bill of Rights (they argued it would be a redundant action given that the Constitution was already crafted with language to protect the natural rights of the people and limit the powers of government), they nonetheless conceded to add the first ten amendments to make the protection of those rights abundantly clear.
We must also bear in mind that our Founding Father’s had lived all their lives under the tyranny of a monarchical system of government, where the power of a king or queen could usurp the right’s of the citizenry without question. They feared creating any kind of governmental system that could eventually mirror what it was they fought so hard against during the Revolutionary War. So, even though some felt a “bill of rights” was redundant, there was no argument that those rights existed outside of government and thus were not a gift from government.
Our rights cannot be taken away or infringed upon without our consent, which includes the implicit consent inherent with infringing on the rights of others, or, more easily stated, breaking the law. Unless an individual’s actions take away or infringe on the rights of someone else, their rights remain intact and cannot be taken away. Here’s a simple example:
The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the citizens of the United States of America a right to freedom of speech. This means we have the right to speak our minds without fear of government reprisal for having a dissenting opinion over the actions of our elected leadership. However, that right does not allow an individual to falsely yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater, thereby creating a panic that risks injury to others. Creating a stampede falsely not only infringes on the rights of individuals to their happiness, but also a potential infringement to their property as well as lives.
Our individual rights exist only to such extent that they do not deny another individual their rights. If we can agree upon this concept, we can proceed. However, if at this point you choose not to accept the premise used by our Founding Fathers and feel, as our current President, Barack Obama, does, that the Constitution is flawed because it is a document of “negative liberties” — in that it tells government what it cannot do instead of what it should do (especially as it relates to redistribution) — then the rest of this reasoned and logical discussion will fall on deaf ears.
Before we continue the subject of healthcare and health insurance (two related, but very different subjects), we must discuss wealth, which is an extension of property. It is something we own or possess.
Thomas Jefferson was once asked to provide his thoughts on whether the government should take more from those who have and give to those with less. He writes:
To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.
— letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816.
Individuals own their wealth, regardless of the form it takes. Money, land, buildings, stocks, investments and more all factor into the personal wealth of a citizen. As a collective, this block of “wealth” is synonymous with property because it is, in fact, owned.
To illustrate this concept, let us create an easily identifiable scenario. You and I are walking down the sidewalk when we come upon a destitute individual wearing ragged clothing and holding a cardboard sign that reads: Homeless, please help. We are both moved by the plight of the individual. We both feel compelled to help that person. We both agree on the outcome we desire — to provide aid.
If I reach into my wallet and remove a $20 bill, I am voluntarily taking part of my property and giving it to someone else. It is my choice to provide a charitable hand-out. I elect to transfer some of my property to someone else.
However, if you put your hand into my wallet and remove that same $20 bill to give to the homeless individual, this is called theft. By choosing to take my property away without my consent, you have infringed on my rights, irrespective of your altruistic intentions.
When I make the choice over what to do with my own property, I have not infringed on the rights of anyone else. When someone else takes my property, even though it is for the same purpose (to help an individual in desperate circumstances), my rights have been deprived as surely as a thief deprives me of my belongings.
One must understand this basic concept if they are to understand why healthcare and health insurance are not rights, but, indeed, privileges. They will always remain so because to take these services for one’s own means to deprive someone else of their property, which, as we have demonstrated, is an infringement of their rights. It is an affront to the very freedoms we hold dear.
When someone goes to school and spends their wealth on becoming a doctor, they have made a significant investment in their chosen career. They own their degree and certification as well as their knowledge and skill. It is that person’s property, both physical and intellectual. They may then make the choice to enter into a contract with other individuals who are in need of their services.
If I fall off my porch and break my arm, I lack the knowledge on how to properly set and care for that injury, so I seek the skills of a physician who does. In exchange for his expertise, I agree to part with some of my property. My property takes the form of currency and his takes the form of both materials and services.
But, that doctor is not the only doctor within my community. His terms and conditions for entering into a contract for services are not the same as someone else in his profession. Some may charge more for their abilities and some may charge less. I have the choice with whom I decide to engage in services.
The same applies for the concept of health insurance. (I am going to proceed under the auspicious that we all understand that “healthcare” refers to the actual action of receiving care from a member of the health industry, whereas “health insurance” relates solely to purchasing a financial plan to help offset the future cost of healthcare.) I do not need to own health insurance to get healthcare. One has nothing to do with the other.
There is no emergency room in this country who will deny anyone healthcare. In the years of hearing this mantra, that healthcare is a right, not once has anyone found a case where a hospital has pre-screened the financial solvency of a patient before treating them. This is not to say they won’t pursue every avenue available to them for reimbursement of those services, but this is a different subject and irrelevant to our discussion today. We are not here to discuss the cost of healthcare.
Rights cannot be taken away without our consent. The Federal government was designed by our Founding Father’s to not only limit the extent of government, but also protect the natural rights inherent to every person. When someone proffers the argument that healthcare is a right, they are, in essence, saying that their rights supersede yours. They are wanting you to surrender a portion of your property because they lack their own ability to take care of themselves.
If healthcare (and health insurance) is a “right”, then I have no control over my own property, which, by that very statement, is in direct contradiction to the theory of natural rights as understood by the Framers of our Constitution. Remember, our individual rights exist only to such extent that they do not deny another individual their rights, which includes the right to our property.
And, more importantly, if we have no control over our property, then where does that infringement stop? Does someone have a right to a seven-course meal every day? What about the right to have a home? How about a right to a mode of transportation? Occupiers and the D-15 movement feel they have a right to a “living wage” (whatever that is, since one person’s definition of living is rarely the same as another’s). Where do you draw the line between Capitalism and Communism?
More often than not, our society has desperately tried to make the word “want” synonymous with “right” and those two words, as far as the Constitution is concerned, are not even remotely similar and, more importantly, are not exchangeable. The sooner we can stop those in our society from deluding themselves with misinformation, the sooner we can actually begin to address the true issue — the cost of care.
For now, let us hope we have taken a first step toward helping others understand the fundamental difference between rights and wants and why those two terms can never be allowed to share the same meaning, lest we make an irrevocable leap toward a complete loss of personal liberty. Our rights are our own and are not conferred on us from any person or government. Abdicating those rights is tantamount to an endorsement of tyrannical rule, returning us to the very place from which our Founding Father’s fought so hard and sacrificed so much to avoid.