Friday, March 19, 2010

Health Care as an Unalienable Right

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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, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

When the founding fathers declared their independence they did so in belief that England was infringing on their unalienable rights.  Today, proponents of health care reform argue that health insurance is one of those unalienable rights.

Health care is a privilege attainable by the wealthy, a benefit provided solely at the discretion of an employer, a government subsidized insurance plan for the elderly or a charitable gift provided based on the goodwill of others.

The Founding Fathers declared that we are "endowed with unalienable rights, among them are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is no question that in order to have life we must have health. Yet there has been only limited constitutional language specific to this right.[1]

Forget for a moment the argument about whether the government paying for the health care of its citizens is a right or not and imagine what such a right would look like if, by amendment, it be added to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

Proponents of Obamacare and health care as a right believe it would read something like this… In fact Rep. Jesse Jackson, jr. proposed this very amendment:

All persons shall enjoy the right to health care of equal high quality. The Congress shall have power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.[2]

If you are astute enough you should immediately notice something different in this amendment from all others listed in the constitution…

The Jackson, Jr. amendment grants the right of health care upon the citizen from their government.  No other amendment or right enumerated in the U.S. Constitution grants rights of any kind to its citizens.

Here are a few amendments with which to compare the previously proposed amendment:

1st Amendment - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

2nd Amendment - A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

13th Amendment - Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

15th Amendment - The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Are you starting to get the idea? 

The Constitution does not grant rights to U.S. citizens, unalienable, civil, human or otherwise.  The Constitution simply restricts the government’s ability to infringe upon its citizens rights.

Given this, what would a true health care amendment look like, one that truly protects Americans’ right to health care?  Perhaps, something like this:

The right of the citizens of the United States to secure health care shall not be denied by the United States.

This amendment does not grant upon them health care, it reaffirms their right to obtain it.  It does not require the government to provide health care, it restricts it from denying a citizens right to obtain it.  A right, one can argue is in line with the right of the people, endowed upon them by their creator, to pursue happiness.

The distinction is significant between these two examples.  In the first proposed amendment, proponents of Obamacare seek to empower the federal government with a power it has never had, that of granting rights upon its citizens.  This stands in stark contrast to a truth the framers of the Constitution understood, that rights are endowed upon man at birth, not by government, but by natural law.

“A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”
- Thomas Jefferson

"The poor people, it is true, have been much less successful than the great. They have seldom found either leisure or opportunity to form a union and exert their strength; ignorant as they were of arts and letters, they have seldom been able to frame and support a regular opposition. This, however, has been known by the great to be the temper of mankind; and they have accordingly labored, in all ages, to wrest from the populace, as they are contemptuously called, the knowledge of their rights and wrongs, and the power to assert the former or redress the latter. I say RIGHTS, for such they have, undoubtedly, antecedent to all earthly government, - Rights, that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws - Rights, derived from the great Legislator of the universe."
- John Adams

"Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature."
- Samuel Adams

The very idea of health care as a right bestowed upon its citizens by the government is also dangerous.  If a government grants the right, it must also have the ability to say how that right is bestowed.

As we have already seen, Medicare is the leading denier of health care benefits claims and was the case in one incident involving Oregon’s state health care system, a cancer patient was denied chemotherapy and offered assisted suicide as an alternative.

Looking at health care as a right, in the same manner the framers might have considered it, sheds light on the issue.  It reveals that allowing the federal government to grant rights upon its citizens, regardless of any social benefit it might claim to bring about, is hazardous to a free people.

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