Health Care Is Not a Right

Published June 1, 2007

Health care is not a right. One cannot have a right to other people’s services; those must be provided voluntarily.

A better understanding of people’s relationship to health care is that it is a value which doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals would, if they were free to do so, provide to people they had chosen as recipients, on terms they regard as acceptable.

These values are not owed to anyone, unless the provider first agrees.

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.

Some Taxes Are Theft

The belief that people may justly be coerced into paying medical professionals to subsidize the care of others is likewise an error–or a ruse. In a free country, adults 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 conscript his neighbor into mowing his lawn, but must ask 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 the public 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.

Consequences Are Severe

The myth of having a right to medical care, and all sorts of other services that require 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 voluntary cooperation through trade, charity, or loans of others. Imposing such costs on unwilling others is like dumping pollution on them–a natural crime.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) should not help perpetrate the myth of health care rights. Rather, he should follow the example set by 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 initially do. Securing health care through government’s policing powers is bad for us all.

Habit Persists

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 people hope that when the government secures others’ services for them, they will escape such coercion themselves.

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 slaves, only the masters.

Yet as history shows, this hope is futile. When the policy of obtaining services from others through coercion gains widespread acceptance, in the end, no one escapes victimization.

This is one reason the Founding Fathers opted for a government system in which everyone has unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, one in which 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 government habit, the worst habit of them all.

Tibor Machan ([email protected]) holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics and is a research fellow at both the Pacific Research Institute in San Francisco and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His latest book is The Morality of Business: A Profession of Wealth Care (Springer, 2007).