If Health Care Is a Right . . .

Writes Jonah Goldberg:

[L]et us consider how President Obama’s health-care bill would work. An official body—staffed with government doctors, actuaries, economists and other experts—will determine which treatments, procedures and remedies are cost-effective and which are not. Then it will decide which ones will get paid for, and which won’t. Democrats call this “cost-controls.” But for the patient and the doctor, it’s plain old rationing.

Now, imagine if the government had a body of experts charged with figuring out what your free-speech rights are, or right to assemble, or worship. Mr. Jones, you can say X and Y but not Z. Ms. Smith, you can freely assemble with Aleutians, Freemasons and carpenters, but you may not meet in public with anyone from Cleveland or of Albanian descent. Mrs. Wilson, you may pray to Vishnu and Crom, but never to Allah or Buddha, and when you do pray, you cannot do so for longer than 20 minutes, unless it is one of several designated holidays. See Extended Prayer Form 10-22B.

Of course, all of this would be ludicrous.

Which is the whole point. Health care cannot be a right, because rights cannot come from government.

Indeed, this is true. Rights do not come from the government. People do not have a natural right to have the government do anything on their behalf, even protect their rights, for that too would involve rationing. This entire line of reasoning can and should be applied to the whole state apparatus, and certainly to the welfare state.

People can have a right to free speech, because in theory, they can say whatever they want so long as they don’t trespass against the property rights of others. This is true in any time and place. The notion of health care being a right is incoherent. For if you have a right to a check up, does that mean a doctor somewhere has the enforceable duty to perform it? Does a right to surgery imply a right to force surgeons to work? As Herbert Spencer said, all socialism involves slavery. Indeed, taken to its logical conclusion, a positive right to health care is not just a right to compel others to finance it, but to compel others to provide it.

Under natural law, true rights, natural rights, do not conflict with one another. But positive rights must be rationed. I wrote about this back in 2006, in a piece reprinted below.

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