Is Health Care a Right? History Says No

As this presidential election year rolls along, we’re sure to hear lots of talk about the proper role of the federal government in health care. Liberals like President Obama, in arguing for a government take-over of the industry, make a claim that sounds logical as long as you don’t think too hard about it; that good health care is a “fundamental human right.”

As compelling as that idea sounds at first blush, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

For one thing, no one of any importance had ever suggested that financial assets were a human right until President Roosevelt started saying it in the 1930’s. For another thing, if I have a right to health care (or housing, or food, or anything else that costs money) it inescapably follows that you, or some other American, has an obligation to pay for my health care.

Somehow it doesn’t sound as warm and fuzzy when you call it an obligation, but there’s no escaping the fact that that’s what it is. Somebody has to pay, and if the person who gets the benefit doesn’t pay for it then somebody else is going to.

(And the way things work these days, the poor slob who’ll be forced to pay for my health care is some future taxpayer who hasn’t even been born yet.)

The Founders certainly never intended for the federal government they worked so hard to create to be in the business of forcing one citizen to pay another citizen’s bills. Article One, Section Eight of the US Constitution specifies the purposes for which Congress is authorized to spend the taxpayers’  money, and paying the doctor bills of the citizenry is not one of the purposes on the list.

In 1794 it was suggested that the Congress should allocate fifteen thousand dollars to help a group of French refugees. James Madison, the acknowledged father of the US Constitution, stood before Congress and said  “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

Even the Progressives of the early twentieth century didn’t try to make financial goods like food and health care God-given rights. It took Franklin Delano Roosevelt to do that. In Roosevelt’s famous Four Freedoms Speech, he masterfully framed the increases in government power he was always pushing for not as a loss of individual freedoms, but as just the opposite. “Freedom from want” was to be a fundamental human right.

(In actual practice, of course, Roosevelt’s New Deal policies had prolonged and exacerbated the severe state of want that the Depression had initially created.)

 Three years later FDR introduced his “Economic Bill of Rights,” which included “The right of every family to a decent home;” “The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;” and “The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.”

 Liberals since FDR have continually repeated the idea of government wealth transfers not as an obligation imposed on those who earn money, but a “right” enjoyed by all.

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