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L. Neil Smith's
Number 528, July 19, 2009


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There ain't no such thing as a right to health care
by F. Paul Wilson

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

There. I said it. Someone had to.

The acronym would be TANSTAARTHC. Nowhere near as euphonius as TANSTAAFL.

I broach the subject because I can't seem to turn on a TV or radio without hearing, "Health care is a human right." The phrase has entered the zeitgeist. Google it and you'll get 25k hits. Google "right to health care" and you get 200k. Maybe I'm not listening hard enough, but I hear no one questioning its validity.

A right is intrinsic. It's not given to you, it's something you're born with. Its existence is not dependent on the actions of others. In fact, only by the actions of others can it be taken from you.

I find the alone-on-a-desert-island rule a convenient way to differentiate genuine human rights from the poseurs.

Let's start with the basics: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You've still got those on a desert island. You may not be happy there, but you don't have a right to happiness, only to seek it out.

On a desert island, you still have the right to free speech. And freedom of religion. And freedom of sexual expression. You also have the freedom to smoke or inject whatever available substances you care to.

You do not have the right to three squares a day because there are no farmers to provide them; you do, however, have a right to grow or forage whatever you can. You don't have a right to a roof over your head because no carpenters live on the island, but you do have a right to erect one.

And you don't have a right to health care because doctors and nurses and drugstores don't exist on the island.

No point in belaboring this. Genuine human rights do not require the participation of anyone outside the individual. Anything that does require the aid or intervention of another party is something else. I'm not sure what it is, but it's not a human right.

Challenging health care as a human right, inevitably and unfortunately, casts one as a heartless person, blind to human suffering, who wants sick people to go untreated. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The question asked here is not whether our fellow human beings should receive the health care they need, but whether it is a human right.

Why is this important? Because health care as a human right is newspeak. It redefines a term to fit a given political or social agenda. Philip K. Dick said, "If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words."

Wishing doesn't make it so. No matter how badly you want it to, "Human right" does not translate into "You owe me."

Nobody owes you health care. You have the right to negotiate for the services of someone who knows more about health than you do, but you don't have a right to that person's knowledge and effort.

If your society decides that all its members should have free access to health care, then you are the fortunate recipient of a gift or a mandated benefit or whatever else your society wants to call it. But it's not a human right.


First published at F. Paul Wilson's blog "The Next Question" at True/Slant. Reprinted by permission and at the suggestion of the author.


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