August 3, 2009 9:56AM

A Right to Health Care?

Rep. John Conyers believes that health care should be a constitutional right. That sounds good, but what does that mean? A right to the level of care provided by Great Britain’s National Health System? Or to treatment in the finest hospitals and by the best specialists available in America? And who must provide for this “right”?

Theodore Dalrymple explains why calling health care a right is a bad idea:

If there is a right to health care, someone has the duty to provide it. Inevitably, that “someone” is the government. Concrete benefits in pursuance of abstract rights, however, can be provided by the government only by constant coercion.

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.

Where does the right to health care come from? Did it exist in, say, 250 B.C., or in A.D. 1750? If it did, how was it that our ancestors, who were no less intelligent than we, failed completely to notice it?

Americans have a right to seek medical treatment of whatever kind they wish and to make treatment choices for themselves. Good and generous people should help ensure that their less fortunate neighbors receive necessary medical care. But no one has a “right” to force unspecified people to provide them with unspecified care. Even if they did, they wouldn’t want to rely on the government to filfull that right.