It is commonplace on the Left to make the alluring proclamation that “health care is a right.” Bernie Sanders has been assiduously fighting to get legislation passed that would supply “Medicare for All.”
In his platform, Sanders demands that: “Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege. Every man, woman, and child should be able to access the health care they need regardless of their income.”
Most people can agree that since it’s desirable, ideas should be put forth for health care programs that are both accessible and efficient. Having said this, calling it a right can prevent the sort of debates that are essential when it comes to health care.
Politically, it is tactically effective for Sanders and his ilk as it gives them the opportunity to moralize and de-legitimize their opponents.
Labeling goods “rights” doesn’t invite much disagreement; if one rejects these propositions, they’re likely maligned with the usual gibes that they’re avaricious and dismissive of the impoverished who have to overcome obstacles to access adequate care.
What should come before this, however, is a discussion on the nature of rights and how they’re conceived.
The fallacy of the positive and negative rights dichotomy
The key fallacy in the “human rights” arguments progressives make for socialized solutions lies in how they resolutely subscribe to the positive side of the “positive rights -negative rights” dichotomy.
This means that insofar as this right is to be respected, it requires actions to provide people something no matter the cost. In sum, to have this construct work in practical terms, one’s right must be another’s obligation.
What are usually described as negative rights are easier to protect as they aren’t based in something material and don’t necessitate the allocation of resources as their protection relies on an adherence to concepts that make up the rule of law (for example, freedom of speech, habeas corpus, property rights, etc.).
A quixotic faith in positive rights that reflects the objectives of the Sanderites is enshrined in the South African constitution.
In South Africa, citizens are guaranteed the right to all “ health care services,” as well as “sufficient food and water.” To achieve this, the constitution dictates that: “The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realization of each of these rights.”
Healthcare as a right infringes on the rights of doctors
The inexorable consequence of this is the impingement of a particular person’s liberties as it functions in a way that the prioritized rights in the health care transaction are those of the patient. The doctor’s rights are rendered diminutive.
Responding to the Clinton health plan in 1993, Leonard Peikoff argued that government efforts to manage a service like health care limits the product and the incentive of doctors as the government tries to wish the right into existence.
The inability of progressives to grapple with this quandary is one of the things that stymie the discourse surrounding this issue.
The credulous belief that this good can be transformed into a right not only fails to consider balancing doctors’ rights with their aims, it also doesn’t acknowledge the intricacies of a multi-faceted industry and its incompatibility with the essence of human rights. As neurosurgeon Philip Barlow explained:
Firstly, health care is difficult to define. It clearly encompasses preventive care (for example, immunisation), public health measures, health promotion, and medical and surgical treatment of established illness. Is the so called human right to health care a right to basic provision of clean water and adequate food, or does everyone in the world have a right to organ transplantation, cosmetic surgery, infertility treatment, and the most expensive medicine? For something to count as a human right the minimum requirement should surely be that the right in question is capable of definition.
Natural rights protect individual choice
The best way to understand rights is within the framework of natural rights that can be universally applied to everyone without feeling the need to encroach on someone’s liberties out of expediency. They are to be based in individual choice —a choice that is not interfered with nor determined by an authority, but merely protected.
Attempts at establishing health care as a right will prove to be reckless as anything that needs exorbitant government planning usually descends into an almost irreversible state of disorganization. For example, Robert E. Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation forecasts that Sanders’ program would cost $32.6 trillion over ten years.
As such, declaring healthcare a right wouldn’t be accordant with any socio-political or economic reality.
An abstract concept, the right to freedom of speech can be universally secured as the state is constitutionally obligated to defend one’s right to their own discretion when it comes to what they say. It imposes no material cost on the rest of the population.
On the contrary, it’s best to treat health care more as a good since the supposed right to it isn’t secure due to the excessive economic commitments it demands of others that can never be fulfilled.