Right to Health Care
Pros and Cons
Video exploring critical thinking and how it leads to great citizen involvement
Last updated on: 3/11/2011 1:18:31 PM PST

Should All Americans Have the Right (Be Entitled) to Health Care?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

N. Gregory Mankiw, PhD, Robert M. Beren Professor of Economics at Harvard University, wrote in his Sep. 19, 2009 New York Times article "Why Health Care Will Never Be Equal":
"The push for universal coverage is based on the appealing premise that everyone should have access to the best health care possible whenever they need it. That soft-hearted aspiration, however, runs into the hardheaded reality that state-of-the-art health care is increasingly expensive. At some point, someone in the system has to say there are some things we will not pay for. The big question is, who? The government? Insurance companies? Or consumers themselves? And should the answer necessarily be the same for everyone?

Inequality in economic resources is a natural but not altogether attractive feature of a free society. As health care becomes an ever larger share of the economy, we will have no choice but to struggle with the questions of how far we should allow such inequality to extend and what restrictions on our liberty we should endure in the name of fairness."

Sep. 19, 2009 - N. Gregory Mankiw, PhD 

Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, television host and film actor at the time of the quotation, stated in his Oct. 27, 1964 nationwide address on behalf of US Senator Barry Goldwater, available on www.ronaldreagan.com:
"...I think we are for telling our senior citizens that no one in this country should be denied medical care because of a lack of funds. But I think we are against forcing all citizens, regardless of need, into a compulsory government program, especially when we have such examples, as announced last week, when France admitted that their medicare program was now bankrupt."

Oct. 27, 1964 - Ronald Reagan 

Should All Americans Have the Right (Be Entitled) to Health Care?

PRO (yes) CON (no)
Barack Obama, JD, US President, US Senator (D-IL) and presidential candidate at the time of the quotation, stated during the Oct. 7, 2008 presidential debate in Nashville, TN, moderated by Tom Brokaw of NBC News:
"...I think it [health care] should be a right for every American. In a country as wealthy as ours, for us to have people who are going bankrupt because they can't pay their medical bills -- for my mother to die of cancer at the age of 53 and have to spend the last months of her life in the hospital room arguing with insurance companies because they're saying that this may be a pre-existing condition and they don't have to pay her treatment, there's something fundamentally wrong about that."

Oct. 7, 2008 - Barack Obama, JD 

Dennis Kucinich, MA, US Representative (D-OH), wrote in his Sep. 9, 2009 OpEdNews article "A New Movement: Health Care as a Civil Right":

"The hour has arrived to begin anew the Civil Rights Movement, this time for Health Care for All...

The Preamble to the United States Constitution and Article One, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution both describe an originating purpose of our United States: to promote the general welfare. Health care is a legitimate function of our government. Health care is a basic right in a Democratic society. It is no more a privilege based on ability to pay than is the right to vote, which was once accorded only to property owners."


Sep. 9, 2009 - Dennis Kucinich, MA 

Edward M. Kennedy, LLB, late US Senator (D-MA), stated in his July 18, 2009 article "'The Cause of My Life'" published in Newsweek magazine:

"...[Q]uality care shouldn't depend on your financial resources, or the type of job you have, or the medical condition you face...

This is the cause of my life. It is a key reason that I defied my illness last summer to speak at the Democratic convention in Denver... to make sure, as I said, 'that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American…will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not just a privilege'... [I]t goes to the heart of my belief in a just society..."


July 18, 2009 - Edward M. Kennedy, LLB 

Physicians for National Health Program (PNHP), a 17,000 member national physician organization advocating a universal, single-payer national health program, wrote in their Aug. 30, 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association article "Proposal of the Physicians' Working Group for Single-Payer National Health Insurance":

"...Access to comprehensive health care is a human right. It is the responsibility of society, through its government, to assure this right. Coverage should not be tied to employment. Private insurance firms’ past record disqualifies them from a central role in managing health care.

The right to choose and change one’s physician is fundamental to patient autonomy. Patients should be free to seek care from any licensed health care professional..."


Aug. 30, 2003 - Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) 

American Medical Student Association (AMSA), wrote in their educational resource "The Case for Universal Healthcare" provided on www.amsa.org (accessed Aug. 27, 2009):

"In a time when thousands of people lose their health insurance every day, when health care is becoming elusive to even well-to-do Americans, and when any person is just one pink slip away from becoming uninsured, it becomes clear that health care for all is not just important to achieve, but imperative.

At its root, the lack of health care for all in America is fundamentally a moral issue. The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have some form of universal health care (defined as a basic guarantee of health care to all of its citizens). While other countries have declared health care to be a basic right, the United States treats health care as a privilege, only available to those who can afford it...

Americans purport to believe in equal opportunity. Yet, in the current situation, those who do not have health care are at risk for financial ruin and poorer health, both of which disadvantage them in society and thereby do not give them equal opportunity...

The Declaration of Independence states there are certain 'inalienable rights', including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If Americans believe in an inalienable right to life, how can we tolerate a system that denies people lifesaving medications and treatments? Similarly, if Americans believe in an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, how can we allow millions of dreams to be smashed by the financial and physical consequences of uninsurance?"


Aug. 27, 2009 - American Medical Student Association (AMSA) 

Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), on the page titled "Health Care Is a Human Right" of its website www.amnestyusa.org (accessed Sep. 23, 2009), provided the following:

"We believe that health care is a right, not a privilege or a commodity.

[E]veryone in the United States has the human right to health care. Reform measures should ensure that every person has access to comprehensive, quality health care. No one should be discriminated against on the basis of income, health status, gender, race, age, immigration status or other factors...

Health care is a public good, not a commodity. Gaps in the health care system should be eliminated so that all communities, rich and poor, have access to comprehensive, quality treatment and services."


Sep. 23, 2009 - Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) 

The United Methodist Church (UMC), wrote on the page titled "Right to Health Care" on its website www.umg.org (accessed Mar. 25, 2010):

"Health care is a basic human right. Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: 'You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured.' As a result all suffer... The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.

We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care."


Mar. 25, 2010 - United Methodist Church (UMC) 

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the official organization of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States, wrote in its June 18, 1993 resolution titled "A Framework for Comprehensive Health Care Reform":
"Our approach to health care is shaped by a simple but fundamental principle: 'Every person has a right to adequate health care. This right flows from the sanctity of human life and the dignity that belongs to all human persons, who are made in the image of God.' Health care is more than a commodity; it is a basic human right, an essential safeguard of human life and dignity. We believe our people's health care should not depend on where they work, how much their parents earn, or where they live. Our constant teaching that each human life must be protected and human dignity promoted leads us to insist that all people have a right to health care."

June 18, 1993 - US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) 

Frank Davidoff, MD, Editor of Annals of Internal Medicine at the time of the quotation, and Robert D. Reinecke, MD, Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Foerderer Eye Movement Center for Children at Jefferson Medical School, wrote in their Apr. 20, 1999 Annals of Internal Medicine editorial "The 28th Amendment":
"Are health care, and health itself, rights? As alien as the concept seems in this country, both are widely, indeed almost universally, accepted as rights elsewhere: in the United Nations Charter; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (which the United States has yet to ratify); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (now formally adopted by all nations except Somalia and the United States), among other statements. These international positions simply highlight further the irony in our Constitution, and although the implications of health and health care as human rights are still hotly debated, the case in favor, in our view, has never been stronger. We therefore propose that the Congress and the people of the United States be given the opportunity to approve an amendment to the Constitution stating: 'All citizens and other residents of the United States shall have equal access to basic and essential health care.'"

Apr. 20, 1999 - Frank Davidoff, MD 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd US President, stated in his Jan. 11, 1944 "State of the Union Address":

"We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

...The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment...

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being."


Jan. 11, 1944 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt 

Sarah Zaidi, ScD, Co-Founder and former Director, and Jean Carmalt, JD, former Legal Coordinator, of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), wrote in their Oct. 2004 report "The Right to Health in America: What Does It Mean" provided on the CESR website:

"In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a ‘Second Bill of Rights' for Americans, declaring ‘freedom from want' to be one of four essential liberties necessary for human security. Roosevelt's definition of freedom included 'the right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health.'

…Unfortunately, the United States turned its back on Roosevelt's vision, and as a result our health care system is in a state of ever-deepening crisis. Despite spending far more per capita on health care than any other country, U.S. has some of the poorest health indicators in the industrialized world. It is the only industrialized nation to deny its citizens universal access to medical services…

This record can be largely attributed to the notion that health care is simply one commodity among others, a privilege for those who can afford it rather than a fundamental human right for all. With a system that values profits over people, it is no surprise that health care costs continue to spiral out of control for ordinary Americans even as HMOs and pharmaceutical companies accumulate record-breaking profits. Only a new approach recognizing the right of every American to adequate health care can address the magnitude of the current crisis."


Oct. 2004 - Sarah Zaidi, ScD 

Margaret R. McLean, PhD, Associate Director of Bioethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics of Santa Clara University, wrote in her Oct. 16, 2007 Valley Catholic article "Expanding Health Care Coverage: A Balm for California?":

"The inherent dignity of human persons requires that people be treated with dignity and respect, which includes the fulfillment of the basic human need for health care...

Health is a fundamental good necessary for human flourishing and health care is a fundamental human right. Because health care, at its best, promotes and sustains human health, society is obligated to provide access to basic quality health care for all its members."


Oct. 16, 2007 - Margaret R. McLean, PhD 

John Campbell, MBT, US Representative (R-CA), wrote in his July 13, 2009 OC Register opinion article "John Campbell: A Right to Health Care?":

"The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence says in part: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.' Nowhere does it mention anything about free MRIs...

In school, we were taught that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were ratified in 1791, and collectively they form our Bill of Rights... Rights are not about giving you something for free; they are about protecting natural liberties from those who would take them away from you. For instance, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. It does not however, say that you get guns for free if you don't have one. This is analogous to the issue of health care 'rights.'

A 'right' to services without charge, that forces someone else to provide for you, does not and should not ever exist. No one in a free society should have a 'right' to anything that requires others to toil against their will on behalf of those unwilling to provide for themselves."


July 13, 2009 - John Campbell, MBT 

John Mackey, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Whole Foods Market, wrote in his Aug. 11, 2009 Wall Street Journal article "The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare":

"Health care is a service that we all need, but just like food and shelter it is best provided through voluntary and mutually beneficial market exchanges. A careful reading of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution will not reveal any intrinsic right to health care, food or shelter. That's because there isn't any. This 'right' has never existed in America

Even in countries like Canada and the U.K., there is no intrinsic right to health care. Rather, citizens in these countries are told by government bureaucrats what health-care treatments they are eligible to receive and when they can receive them. All countries with socialized medicine ration health care by forcing their citizens to wait in lines to receive scarce treatments.

Although Canada has a population smaller than California, 830,000 Canadians are currently waiting to be admitted to a hospital or to get treatment, according to a report last month in Investor's Business Daily. In England, the waiting list is 1.8 million...

Rather than increase government spending and control, we need to address the root causes of poor health. This begins with the realization that every American adult is responsible for his or her own health."


Aug. 11, 2009 - John Mackey 

Theodore Dalrymple, MD, Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor to City Journal, and retired British physician, wrote in his July 28, 2009 Wall Street Journal article "Is There a 'Right' to Health Care?":

"People sometimes argue in favor of a universal human right to health care by saying that health care is different from all other human goods or products. It is supposedly an important precondition of life itself. This is wrong: There are several other, much more important preconditions of human existence, such as food, shelter and clothing.

Everyone agrees that hunger is a bad thing (as is overeating), but few suppose there is a right to a healthy, balanced diet, or that if there was, the federal government would be the best at providing and distributing it to each and every American...

The government-run health-care system—which in the U.K. is believed to be the necessary institutional corollary to an inalienable right to health care—has pauperized the entire population...

Universality is closely allied as an ideal, ideologically, to that of equality. But equality is not desirable in itself. To provide everyone with the same bad quality of care would satisfy the demand for equality... [T]he universality of government health care in pursuance of the abstract right to it in Britain has not ensured equality. After 60 years of universal health care, free at the point of usage and funded by taxation, inequalities between the richest and poorest sections of the population have not been reduced. But Britain does have the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe.

There is no right to health care—any more than there is a right to chicken Kiev every second Thursday of the month."


July 28, 2009 - Theodore Dalrymple, MD 

David Kelley, PhD, Executive Director of the Atlas Society, stated in his speech "Is There a Right to Health Care?" delivered at multiple venues from 1993-1994, available on www.objectivistcenter.org:

"Indeed, it is often said that the need for health care constitutes a right. President Clinton campaigned with the slogan, 'Health care should be a right, not a privilege.'

...I can state my own point in a sentence: there is no such right... The idea that people have a right to health care is inimical to our genuine liberties. The policies that flow from that idea are harmful to the interests of doctors and patients alike...

[A] political system that tries to implement a right to health care will necessarily involve: forced transfers of wealth to pay for programs, loss of freedom for health care providers, higher prices and more restricted access by all consumers, a trend toward egalitarianism, and the collectivization of health care. These consequences are not accidental. They follow necessarily from the nature of the alleged right."


1993-1994 - David Kelley, PhD 

Michael F. Cannon, MA, JM, Director of Health Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, wrote in his June 29, 2007 National Review Online article "A 'Right' to Health Care?":

"Suppose Congress created a legally enforceable right to health care...

The first difficulty would be to define the scope of that right. Do we have a right to preventive care? If so, health care spending (and taxes) would explode...With the wide variety of tests and treatments, someone must decide where the right to health care ends, lest the nation be bankrupted. Whoever makes those decisions will wield enormous power over people’s health. Who should have that power? Most nations hand that power to unelected bureaucrats, who ration medical care — often by making even seriously ill patients wait for care.

A second and related difficulty is the question of who pays. By definition, a right to health care could not be conditioned on ability to pay. Delivering on that right would require additional taxes proportionate to the scope of that right.

A third difficulty is the incentives created by a right to health care. Patients would demand far more medical care because additional consumption would cost them little. Higher tax rates would discourage work and productivity, yielding less economic growth and wealth...

A fourth difficulty is how to deliver all this medical care. Declaring health care to be a right does nothing to solve the problem of getting the right resources to the right place at the right time...

Finally, if health care really were a fundamental human right, Americans presumably would have no greater a right to medical care than Indians or Haitians. If we truly believe that everyone has an equal right to health care, we would have to tax Americans to provide medical care to nearly every nation in the world.

The fundamental problem with the idea of a right to health care is that it turns the idea of individual rights on its head. Individual rights don’t infringe on the rights of others... A right to health care, however, says that Smith has a right to Jones’ labor. That turns the concept of individual rights from a shield into a sword.

The underlying goal of a legally enforceable right to health care is to provide quality medical care to the greatest number possible. Perversely, making health care a 'right' would make that goal harder to attain."


June 29, 2007 - Michael F. Cannon, MA, JM 

John David Lewis, PhD, Visiting Associate Professor of Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Duke University, wrote in his Aug. 12, 2009 Huffington Post article "Health Care, Why Call It a 'Right'?":

"...[T]he very idea that health care -- or any good provided by others -- is a 'right' is a contradiction. The rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence were to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Each of these is a right to act, not a right to things...

These two concepts of rights -- rights as the right to liberty, versus rights as the rights to things -- cannot coexist in the same respect at the same time...

To reform our health care industry we should challenge the premises that invited government intervention in the first place. The moral premise is that medical care is a right. It is not. There was no 'right' to such care before doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies produced it. There is no 'right' to anything that others must produce, because no one may claim a 'right' to force others to provide it. Health care is a service, and we all depend upon thinking professionals for it. To place doctors under hamstringing bureaucratic control is to invite poor results."


Aug. 12, 2009 - John David Lewis, PhD 

Mike Rosen, MBA, former Corporate Finance Executive at Samsonite and Beatrice Foods, wrote in his Aug. 13, 2009 Denver Post article "Rosen: No 'Right' to Health Care":

"Health care is not a fundamental 'right' in our society. The unalienable rights cited in the Declaration of Independence are life, liberty and the 'pursuit' (not the delivery) of happiness. The Preamble to the Constitution speaks of 'promoting' the general welfare, not providing it. The Bill of Rights delineates a series of fundamental rights that individuals possess, by nature, and that government shall not infringe. Free health care is not one of them. If it were, it could only be delivered to one person by forcing another to provide it. And that would be a violation of the provider's individual rights...

If someone is indigent, we don't let him die on the sidewalk outside a hospital. We treat that person, as we should. We'll even send an ambulance to get him. But whether the money to pay for this comes from taxpayers, private benefactors or by shifting the cost to other patients, it's still charity. Health care isn't a right. Neither are food stamps, housing subsidies or welfare. They're all charity.

Distributing homes, cars, lawyers or health care via a random lottery isn't practical; it's socialism. And socialism is doomed to failure because it lacks incentives and rewards for individual productivity and excellence. In the absence of that, it ultimately collapses when it runs out of the means to spend other people's money."


Aug. 13, 2009 - Mike Rosen, MBA 

Jacob G. Hornberger, JD, Founder and President of the Future of Freedom Foundation (FFF), wrote in his July 1, 2009 post "Health Care Is Not a Right" on his blog at www.fff.org:

"Amidst all the health care debate, there is one underlying assumption that hardly anyone challenges: the notion that people have a right to health care. The truth is that it’s a nonsensical notion. People no more have a right to health care than they have a right to education, food, or clothing.

...[T]he right to health care entails the power of everyone to get into the pocketbooks of everyone else. That’s not only a ridiculous notion of rights but also a highly destructive one. Since obviously people can’t go and take the money from others directly, it inevitably entails converting government into an engine of seizure and redistribution...

When Americans began looking upon rights as some sort of positive duty on others to provide them with certain things, that was when the quality of health care in America began plummeting. That was what Medicare and Medicaid were all about — the so-called right of poor people and the elderly to health care. It is not a coincidence that what began as the finest health care system in the world has turned into a system that is now in perpetual crisis."


July 1, 2009 - Jacob G. Hornberger, JD 

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