Defending the rights of John Q - Dr. John Q

By Wayne Dunn (Posted March 24, 2002)

John Q - a propaganda flick about an uninsured worker who forces doctors at gunpoint to treat his son - has reinvigorated the widespread misconception that health care should be a "right."

But believers in such a notion, and the politicians that pander to them, evade a fundamental fact: a legitimate right doesn't impose obligations on anyone else.

Your constitutional right to worship, for example, doesn't obligate me to build you a church or sing you a hymn. My right to free speech doesn't require you to rent me a printing press or toss me a microphone. Your neighbor's right to pursue happiness doesn't force you to buy him a condo or fly him to Maui. Real rights don't obligate anyone to do anything except respect the rights of all.

Notice that America's founders correctly enshrined rights not to goods or outcomes but to actions. We aren't granted the "right," say, to a plot of land or pair of shoes; instead we're endowed with the right to liberty - which includes the liberty to earn money and buy things such as land and shoes, but with no guarantee of success. The right to bear arms, to use another example, is the freedom to own a gun (2nd Amendment debates aside), not a decree that Smith & Wesson will provide you one.

Health care is important. It is a need. But there's a difference between needs and rights. You may really need a car, for instance, but that doesn't mean the Ford dealer should have to give you one or that your countrymen should have to spring for it. That would be immoral. One man's need doesn't trump another man's liberty.

Your life is yours. Your mind is yours. Your property is yours. That's what freedom means. And that's why health care can't be a right. There can be no genuine right to what other individuals invent, create, discover, or produce. And what is health care if not a compilation of individuals' inventions, creations, discoveries and productive energy? The businessman who risks millions of dollars on a promising new drug, the scientist who toils for years researching a disease cure, the doctor who spends a decade mastering medicine, and, yes, the insurance company executive selling peace of mind - all of these people, the ones who make American health care the envy of the world, have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just like the rest of us. If individuals are to be free, health care can't be.

The moral gravity of the issue is best expressed not by a gun-wielding "victim" in a Hollywood movie but by a mind-wielding hero in an Ayn Rand novel. A brilliant surgeon in Atlas Shrugged explains why he quit medicine after it was socialized: "I often wondered at the smugness with which people assert their right to enslave me, to control my work, to force my will, to violate my conscience, to stifle my mind - yet what is it they expect to depend on when they lie on an operating table under my hands?"

It is the work, the will, the conscience and the mind of a doctor - the most intimate conduit of health care - upon which many of us will have to rely someday. Only the shortsighted, or self-destructive, regard it as safe to throttle the life of the person on whose ability they may depend (and under whose scalpel they may lie).

Dr. John Q owns his life every bit as much as Mr. John Q does. And a mob of squawking seniors toting signs or a flock of clucking congressmen cackling rhetoric won't alter that fact, though they may alter the law. But never confuse what's legal with what's moral. If tomorrow congress passed a law mandating that you "donate" your car to the poor, on the grounds, say, that they need it and therefore have a right to it, and if the courts upheld the law, it would be legal. But it certainly wouldn't be moral.

Health care isn't a right. It's a valuable service provided by intelligent people who should be free to make as much money as their talent warrants, just like everyone else in America. If health care is elevated to the status of a right, then those who provide health care are relegated to the status of a slave. And there's nothing right about that.

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© COPYRIGHT 2002 by Wayne Dunn