Is Health Care A “Right”? Not According to Governments Who Run Health Care

The advocates of government-run medicine base their claims on the notion that health care is a “right.” They thus attempt to occupy the moral high ground over those who advocate reforms based on the principle of individual choice.

For example, lobbyists in favor of California’s SB-840, a bill that has twice failed to impose a government-monopoly health system, affirm Californians’ “right” to “quality, affordable health insurance.” Many physicians do likewise.

At a recent debate of the Benjamin Rush Society, which comprises physicians and medical students who oppose government control of medicine, Dr. Oliver Fein, represented the Physicians for a National Health Program, (PNHP), which includes the “right” to health care in its mission statement. Fortunately for Dr. Fein, he has not practiced in a country such as Canada, where the government has defined health care as a “right.”

Fortunately for the New York audience, one of the speakers opposing the resolution, that health care should be the responsibility of the federal government, was Dr. Brian Day, a Canadian orthopedic surgeon. He knows all too well the pain caused to both patients and doctors when the government asserts its “right” to control your health care.

Back home in British Columbia, the monopolistic provincial health plan is suing Dr. Day for allegedly receiving direct payment from patients for performing surgeries in his clinic. What makes the case remarkable is that the provincial monopolists have launched their legal attack against Dr. Day based on their new-found conviction that Canadian citizens do not, in fact, have a right to health care.

The state’s claim is remarkable in its arrogance but a necessary legal maneuver if the BC government wants to put Dr. Day out of business. In 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada found that elements of the province of Quebec’s monopoly over health care violated citizens’ human rights because of the government’s failure to deliver care. Since then, other Canadians have launched similar lawsuits in other provinces. It appears they just might win.

By conceding that health care is not a “right,” the provincial monopolists can argue that the 2005 Supreme Court decision is irrelevant. If that is the case, then the government’s monopoly obviously cannot violate citizens’ rights.

As this episode shows, once the state takes over, the citizen hasn’t got a chance. Governments are not competent to provide health care as a “right,” any more than they would be competent to provide shoes as a “right.” Therefore people who define their right to health care differently will have to continue to fight the state to recognize it.

How should it then be defined? When I’m speaking publicly on health reform, people sometimes ask: “Do you think that health care is a human right?” My answer is: “Yes, I believe that you have a right to spend your own money on health care of your choice, free of government interference.”

This prompts a moment of reflection in those who understand the difference between a culture in which people take care of each others’ needs as members of a civil society, versus one in which we surrender our liberty to unlimited control of our health-care resources by government agents.

Legislators in Sacramento and Washington need to reflect on those realities, and the plight of Dr. Brian Day. Otherwise governments in the United States may soon be further infringing Americans’ health care choices, and be suing doctors for taking care of patients’ needs.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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