Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Health Care and Rights

A key component to the ongoing debate on health care is the claim by some proponents that all people have or should have a right to health care. I do not believe that this is so. My belief comes from under my understanding of the nature of rights and of the right to property in particular.

Many philosophers draw a distinction between two types of rights, negative and positive rights. A negative right does not require anyone to do anything, merely refrain from acting in a way that would violate that right. My right to life does not require you to do anything, it merely requires you to refrain from killing me. All basic rights, including the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to free speech and press, the right to bear arms, the right to free exercise of religion, the right to assembly, the right to property, and others, are negative rights. Negative rights, in and of themselves, do not, however, require action on the part of others. I can watch you be murdered, and not lift a hand to defend you, without violating your rights.

Positive rights require others to do things. My right to vote requires that the government and its representatives hold elections. It is difficult for me to hold a positive right without infringing on the negative rights of others. Many libertarian thinkers hold that positive rights can only be acquired through contract. In this view, only those people with whom you have contracted have a positive duty to provide the services needed for you exercise your positive rights. I, for the most part, agree with this, with the important caveat that some contracts are not explicit, but rather implicit. Some implicit contracts are woven into the fabric of society and by participating in society you are agreeing to these implicit contrracts. Although these societal contracts can create duties, since these duties will, by their nature, impinge on the rights of the members of society, societal contracts should be no more extensive than absolutely necessary.

The right to property is, as I see it, a basic right. I am entitled to the fruits of my labor, and no one else is. Since I own the fruits of my labor, I may do with it what I will. I may choose give others the fruits of my labor either out of the goodness of my heart, or in as part of a contract into which I have freely entered. To deprive me of the fruits of my labor against my consent is tyranny. The right to property can actually be seen as one of the most fundamental of rights. The right to a free press is nothing more than the right to do whatever I want with my printing press. The rights of assembly, of free exercise, to bear arms, and other rights are, in a similar way, derived from the right to property. Even the rights to life and liberty are in way property rights. I own my self, and to deprive me of my life or freedom is deprive me of the enjoyment of my property.

All of this is pretty theoretical, and none of it is original with me, but they really are the views that my political decisions are rise from. Now to apply them to the health care debate. A right to health care, if such a thing were to exist, would obviously be a positive right. It would impose on medical providers on obligation to treat without payment or an obligation for others to pay for the services. This is an impingement on basic rights, which should only be done with great fear and trepidation. Even if I were happy to provide free health care or pay so that others could get health care, I do not have the right to impose that on others. I may do what I want with my property, but not with yours. (As it happens, I have provided health care for free, and payed for other's health care outside of the usual taxes and cost shifting by which every paying patient pays for other's health care.)

In addition to the theoretical reasons to oppose the establishment of health care as a right, there are practical ones, which I will discuss later.

No comments: