As I was watching the healthcare vote last night, with Boehner and Pelosi making their final speeches, I kept hearing the phrase "the right to healthcare" used over and over. I starting thinking about this phrase, because it is not mentioned in the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution or any civil rights legislation up to this point. However, as the coordinator of the Respect Life ministry at my parish, it is my responsiblity to think about these kinds of things – everything "from womb to tomb" or "from gums to gums".
As it turns out, I think that the right to healthcare does fall under the right to life. After all, if you don’t have your health, you are not likely to have life for much longer. Therefore, I think that it can safely be said that the right to healthcare falls under the right to life – one of the many rights that the Founding Fathers believed were unalienable and granted to us by our Creator, and as such, was explicitly listed in the Constitution: life, liberty, property, press, religion, speech, bear arms, representation in court, etc. etc.
But let’s have a look at these other rights.
I have the right to own a gun – it says so right in the 2nd Amendment. However, just because I have this right to own one does not mean that the government must provide it for me. In fact the only time the government will give me a gun is if I am working for them (in some protective service, like the police or military or the IRS).
I have the right to free speech and freedom of the press. However, this is "free" as in "free to say what I want", not as in "free of cost". In fact, sometimes my words cost something. I might say the wrong thing, which might offend someone – this will cost me an apology. I might say something unpopular – this might cost me friends. Additionally, I have to pay for the free press – my newspaper, newsletters, magazines, internet service, etc. is not "free of cost". If I can’t afford a newspaper, the government will not pay for me to get a copy of the NY Times or The Limbaugh Letter or National Geographic… unless I am a government employee. (The military has their own newspaper and different departments might buy some magazine or newspaper for the breakroom.)
I have the freedom to assemble, as well as the freedom of "redress of grievances", i.e., the right to protest. However, if I want to do this, I’m going to need to get myself there to assemble and protest. The government will not pay for my bus fare to go and attend a rally against the government. (Well, maybe they will, if it is for something that ACORN wants to accomplish.)
The same thing holds for freedom of religion. Whatever I need (or want) in order to practice my faith will have to be provided by me! Our church is meeting in a public school cafeteria, but we are paying rent on that – it is not free. We worked out a deal with the local developer for a tract of land on which to build our church, but a portion of that has to be for public use. The government will not fund our church, and is actually expressly prohibited from doing just that thing!
So far, every right I’ve mentioned will cost me something if I want to exercise that right. These rights are guaranteed by the government, but they are not guaranteed to be "at little or no cost". There is no right to "cheap newspapers". There is no right to "free guns". My right to property means that no one can take my possessions without due process of law – it does not mean that the government has to provide those possessions in the first place.
In fact, the only service that, as a right, is mentioned to be provided by the government is representation in court. According to the 6th amendment, I have a right "to have the assistance of counsel for [my] defence." It was only after the Supreme Court case Miranda v. Arizona that we heard about "if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you by a court of law." This was the first time that the government was providing a right – and this is only in your defence in criminal trials (not for a civil case), and only if you can’t afford one, and even then, you can choose to represent yourself and refuse the government-provided service. Up until Miranda v. Arizona, the only ones who got attorneys appointed for them were specific government employees: members of the military (and only in military tribunals).
We are beginning to see the first cracks in the logic of "healthcare as a right". In fact, what is actually being promoted in this healthcare bill is "health *insurance* as a government-provided right". And so far, the government only pays for "rights" for those who are also government employees (mostly in the military).
Lastly, I have a right to liberty – to be free to do (or not do) my own thing. And this is where the whole "right to health insurance" argument really falls apart. I have the right to do something, e.g., smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, buy a car, sell goods, make a profit, donate to charity, etc. I also have the right to *not* do something. Nothing says I have to buy a car, although it’s probably a good idea to have one. I don’t have to smoke or drink – in fact, it’s often better if I do not! I don’t have to make a profit in a business – I don’t have to have a business at all! – but it would make it difficult to do anything else if I am putting out more money than I am taking in. I don’t have to give to charity – the fact that it’s a voluntary decision is what makes it a virtue!
Therefore, as a right, I should have the right to refuse it, to choose to pay for something better (and admittedly more expensive) or to completely do without! Although an attorney may be appointed to me for free, not many people would want to be represented by the court attorney, because we all know that, generally, you get what you pay for.
And this is where the health insurance mandate ceases to be a right and instead becomes a burden. Your employer must provide health insurance. If your family makes above a certain income, you must have health coverage (unless you are a legal immigrant for less than 5 years or you are a baby in the womb – then, you are on your own, and good luck with that!)
As far as rights go, I believe that health (and even basic healthcare) may fall into that category. However, health insurance is not a right – it is a privilege, like a car or homeowner’s insurance (after the mortgage is paid). As a privilege, it is something that I must either work for, so I can afford it, or I can ask (not demand) others to provide for me. I am not allowed to demand that someone give me a gun or a church building, but that doesn’t mean I have any less of a right to own a gun or any less freedom of religion.
A right is to be protected, but not provided, by the government. This current healthcare bill fails this test. In fact, it not only fails this test, but it also goes against some of my other rights. It infringes upon my right to liberty, as an individual or as a business owner, by forcing me to buy something I may not want. It also fails to protect the right to life for our most vulnerable members: our posterity.
My copy of the Constitution contains these words: "We the People of the United States, in Order to… secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…" This healthcare bill does nothing of the sort. As such, it goes against our Constitution and against "We the People."