New Essay by John David Lewis: “There is No ‘Right’ to Healthcare”

Is health care a right? For decades, American politicians have enacted laws on the presumption that it is and that government therefore has a responsibility to provide it to individuals who cannot or choose not to buy it themselves. These laws, which include Medicare, Medicaid, and now ObamaCare, have resulted in runaway health-care spending and massive government intervention in medicine.

In a newly published essay, “There is No ‘Right’ to Healthcare,” the late historian John David Lewis challenges this presumption at its core. The essay appears in the textbook Medical Ethics, 2nd edition, edited by Michael Boylan of Marymount University.

Lewis describes two basic and conflicting views of rights in America today. One is the idea of rights as entitlements to goods and services. The other is the idea of rights as moral prerogatives to freedom of action.

The first view holds that if a person has an unmet human need—a need that could be satisfied by some good or service—then it is incumbent upon others who are able to satisfy that need to do so. In other words, needs impose duties.

Lewis explains that this view fails in two important ways. First, because human needs are boundless, the consistent application of the notion that needs impose duties would lead to

an endless creation of duties, and to ever-increasing government control over the lives of citizens, precisely because there is no end to the needs that one person may demand that others satisfy.

The other main problem, Lewis explains, is that imposing duties upon one person in the name of satisfying the unmet needs of another inescapably violates the rights of the first person. Applying this to health care, Lewis writes, “There is no right to medical care because there is no right to coerce medical professionals to provide it.”

The correct conception of rights, Lewis explains, is that rights define the scope of an individual’s freedom of action against which others may not infringe. Health care cannot be a right because health care consists of goods and services that are provided by medical professionals—people who have a right to think and act in pursuit of their own happiness and values just as anyone does. “To claim a right to medical care,” explains Lewis, “is to claim nothing less than a right to run the lives of those who must provide the care.”

In discussions of today’s health-care crises, many people, especially politicians, often engage in dithering economic deliberations and societal cost-benefit analyses. Lewis’s “There is No ‘Right’ to Healthcare” brings the fundamental issues back into focus, and provides a clear and morally certain solution to our health care problems: Reject the false “right” to health care, and protect each individual’s actual right to pursue health care on strictly voluntary terms.

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  • Anonymous

    Just HOW can we implement this clear and morally certain solution to our health care problems when we have the idea that needs take precedence already in place, and the fact that plenty of people, in positions to use the physical power of government, want to and intend to keep it that way forever? They’ve already got their way. When Obama Care crumbles, the single-payer, fully socialized system will bulldoze concierge medicine out of existence. Need, by initiatory force, will override right to action. How do we implement the moral solution, even now, let alone when that happens? The initiatory force, using the physical power meant for law and government, is firmly in place, at the ready. So, how, when no matter how much intellectualizing and educating (which I DO advocate) is done, there’ll still always be those crooks with their hands on the physical power meant for law and government? THAT will have to be countered and disposed of, when we have a reasonable ability to do so. Mike Kevitt

  • Herr Hur

    To claim a right to medical care, is to claim nothing less than a right to run the lives of those who must provide the care.”

    In Sweden, where both medical school and health care is socialized, there is a shortage of doctors in some hospitals. Many nurses move to Norway and almost double their wage, right after graduation.

    To combat this, some are actually suggesting that medical personnel should be forced to pay off their moral debt to the State by working the first 15 years in a place assigned by the government.

    The shortage in medical personnel is often alleviated by MDs working as independent contractors, temporarily filling shortages at a higher wage. The same debaters are suggesting to outlaw temporary medical work, and instead give doctors a “fair” (much lower) wage as a way to improve the government hospital budgets.

    Always trying to outlaw the symptoms, when the cause is the attempt to centrally plan a myriad of individuals.

    • roberta4343

      force always leads to more force, in rome when the tax collectors couldn’t get enough taxes the gov decided to take it out of the tax collectors own pocket, so when the special title they recevied as tax collectors (some fancy name) they decided it wasnt worth it so they left the country toanother place, so to stop that teh gov decided to make a law that where ever you go they can force you back to rome and start tax collecting again, same with lease holders of land, when the taxes became to burdensome they would leave the country hence they made a law you cannot get out of your lease ever, so force leads to more force, force services from someone involuntarily (slavery) don’t be surprised if they want to vote with their feet and leave, but hey we can just outlaw them from leaving by imposing indenture servitude on them, but those who become professionals using taxpayer funds will thus not become professionals or will go to another place and pay for it themselves where it is cheaper to get the needed training. problem solved, except for the poor people who will now have even less access to health care. force and violating negative rights always leads to more injustice in thename of justice and more violence in the name of stopping violence. I forgot you can’t get enough doctors? then you conscript people to become them, just like if you can’t get enough people to volunteer for the army you draft them byforce. funny how people in gov never seem to understand you cannot force free thinking free will agents into servitude without backlash and revolt even the blacks of plantations understood enough about slavery (being kidnapped and held hostage) to try to vote with their feet and heads by running away or slacking off on their job and if they tried to force them some more to work more by whipping and other coercive methods then the slaves just became more angry until they burned the house down with the master still in it.

  • Joan Turner

    I heartily agree with this concept, but I can’t help but ask how this applies to a person’s right in legal issues. Is the concept of a court appointed lawyer to those who can’t afford one just in an Objectivist viewpoint?

    • Ray Deonier

      Hmm….dead post…. nevertheless… The justification for a court appointed lawyer might reasonably be that because “society” is attempting to take away or limit an individual’s right to free movement, liberty, or in extreme cases life, that they are entitled to a defense of that actual right at the expense of the society, to ensure that justice is fully served. Otherwise we could enter an age of terror as in post revolution France.

      The society must justify its action, in taking away actual liberties/rights at the expense of society.