Sunday, July 8, 2012

Health care "rights", voting "rights", and human rights

A Facebook poster made this comment on a discussion about "health care as a human right":
Rights are something that emerge over time, but only after a fight of one kind or another. Consider the right to vote, for example. We have expanded that right over time, at least in modern industrialized countries. With regard to healthcare, the argument is whether we as a society are ready to acknowledge (or grant if you prefer) that right for every person. We can certainly afford it. It is only a matter of priorities.
I was inspired to give this reply:
Judith: You and I have different concepts of what rights are and where they come from. I'm not saying this to pass judgement, just to point out that we are going to come to different conclusions from our different starting points. I understand that you believe rights are something created or granted by society, or government. From my perspective, rights are something transcendent, something intrinsic to what it means to be a human being. When I think of rights, I think of words like "fundamental" and "inalienable". I believe that government and society cannot add to or take away the rights I have as a human being, it can only protect the rights that every human has, or violate them. The government or society which can create or grant rights, can take those rights away... or, simply decide not to grant them in the first place.

With regard to voting, I know that we commonly talk of "voting rights", but I'm not sure it's the best terminology. You see, when I vote, I have power over the life and liberty of my neighbor. I consider that to be a privilege and a power, not to be exercised lightly. It is a power which my neighbor has given to me, in exchange for giving up the same power over my own life. I cannot claim an intrinsic, fundamental, inalienable right to power over my neighbor's life.

Bringing it back to healthcare, if what you want is to make people healthier and happier, even those who cannot afford it for themselves, I agree with that goal. I think it's a goal that elevates us as a society. But a coercive approach can spoil even the noblest of purposes. If I can persuade my neighbor to donate to healthcare for those who can't afford it, I lift up my neighbor, I lift up the sick, and I lift up myself. But if I force my neighbor to serve my cause, it doesn't matter whether my cause can be considered just or not. Every tyrant in history thought he had a just cause. And, no matter how you spin it, every government means is going to be a coercive means in the end.

I actively support healthcare supplied at minimal or no cost to the patient by charitable organizations with my voice and my wallet. I cannot support it with my neighbor's wallet, or my vote. I hope you understand what I mean.

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