Monday, December 21, 2009

Right to a lawyer, Right to a doctor

I was watching MSNBC's Hardball tonight, and one comment by the host prompted the following email.



I enjoy your show, but you said something tonight that I disagreed with. To paraphrase, you said that if a criminal has a right to a lawyer, then a family has a right to a doctor.

You are confusing positive rights and negative rights. The reason an alleged criminal (they are innocent until proven guilty) has a right to a lawyer is because the state is moving to take away the defendant's freedom. Freedom is a negative right, and nobody can take our freedom away unless we infringe on the rights of others (by breaking the laws which were written to protect the rights of others). We also have the right to health. This is also a negative right, because nobody can take our health away from us, either by polluting our water or land, doing us physical harm, experimenting on us, et cetera.

However, taking something away is very different than giving something. While we all have the right to health, none of us have a right to health care. Health care is of course a service, and someone has to provide that service. Ultimately, to enforce a right to health care, the state might be forced to enslave someone to provide that health care. That of course would be infringing on the rights of the service providers.

I am a senior medical student. I was a supporter of the public option, and am a supporter of the reform bill that passed, weak though that it may be. It is shameful that people in the richest nation on earth should be without access to basic health care because they are poor. Health care is an invaluable service that we are, and should be, willing to sacrifice for. Just remember that health care is not a right, because I am not a slave.

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