Thursday, November 13, 2008

An American Doctor's Declaration of Independence: Part I

I. Introduction

Health care is a human right”. The phrase is quoted so often, and is so ingrained in our dialogue that it would seem that it is a settled matter. For millennia, though, the debate about what constitutes “a right” has raged. Even as recently as the 1990s, the assertion of a right to health care in the U.S. ignited a firestorm of disagreement. Now it might seem that the battle has ended with a whimper and a silent admission that health care as a right is something we have all agreed to accept.

This fundamental and central question about the nature of health care in society lies at the heart of all discussions about health policy. I submit that it is far from settled. It is unsettled because the statement contains an implicit falsehood – that the prerequisite questions have been answered to everyone’s satisfaction. They have not. Within the debate about whether people have a right to health care exist myriad other debates of equal interest and potential rancor. Questions like:

• What exactly is a right?
• What is the nature of health care?
• To what level of health care are people claiming a right?
• What are a health care provider’s responsibilities?
• What are a health care provider’s rights?
• What is the nature of the medical profession?
• Does a positive right abolish charity?

Until these questions can be addressed and answered satisfactorily, I believe that the claim that “Health Care is a Right”, by those who espouse that view, is a premature declaration of victory.

Next time: A Brief Discussion of Rights