Sunday, February 18, 2007

Health Care is a Value, not a Right

Tibor R. Machan

Health care is not a right—one cannot have a right to other people’s service. Those must be provided voluntarily. A better understanding of the relationships people have to health care is that the latter is a value that doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals would, if they were free men and women, provide to people they would choose as recipients, on terms they regard as acceptable.

These values are not owed to anyone unless first agreed to be provided. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals may not be placed into involuntary servitude to people needing their services. The relationships must be voluntary, no matter how vital the services in question are to the recipients.

The belief that people may justly be coerced so as to secure funds to pay medical professionals who then will service those who need their work is an error—or a ruse. In a free country adult men and women must treat each other as ends in themselves, not as unwilling tools, instruments, or means to each other’s ends. Just as someone may not go over to one’s neighbors’ homes to conscript them to come and mow one’s lawn or drive one to the hospital but must ask for this and await willingly given help, so any service such as medical care must be obtained without coercion.

Some people believe that once it has been democratically determined that people must pay for medical services to everyone, there is nothing wrong with collecting taxes for this purpose. This view is wrong because no group—or majority of a group—may take what belongs to others. It is no less unjust to do such a thing than it is to hang someone because the majority in some town decides it is acceptable to do so, without first following due process, namely demonstrating through a justice system that the hanging is deserved.
The myth of having a right to medical care, and all sorts of other services that need the work or resources of others, leads to the view that people can proceed with their lives without having to be responsible for producing—or obtaining via voluntary interaction—whatever living requires. There are all kinds of costs people must cover and be prepared to cover, alone or with the voluntary cooperation through trade, charity, generosity, or grant of loans of others. Imposing such costs on unwilling others is like dumping pollution on unwilling others, a natural crime.

Arnold Schwarzenegger should not be complicit in perpetrating the myth of health care rights. He should follow the lead of his late friend, Milton Friedman, and champion a truly free society, including a completely voluntary system of doctor-patient relationships. Anything else is bad for both parties, although it may appear otherwise—as most moral shortcuts do, initially. Securing health care by means of the police power of government is bad for us all.

I am probably whistling in the dark about this (and many other matters having to do with how people should relate to one another on a completely voluntary basis). Too many hope that when the government secures for them what others can do they will escape being victims of such coercion. Slavery, even the more moderate version involved in the universal health care scheme, gains its support mostly from folks who think they will never be the salves, only the masters.

Yet as history shows, this is a futile hope. When the policy of obtaining services form others through coercion gains widespread acceptance, in the end no one can escape becoming a victim. This is one reason the American founders opted for a country in which everyone has unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and no one may be coerced for any purpose at all—that’s what unalienable means! But their teaching was largely premature. Too many of us still suffer from the governmental habit, the worst habit of them all.

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