Hornberger's Blog

Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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No One Has a Right to Health Care


Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders says that everyone has a right to health care. Unfortunately, none of his presidential opponents, Democrat or Republican, is going to challenge him on the point. They’re too scared that they’d lose votes by challenging a standard socialist shibboleth in America.

Sanders’ assertion only goes to show how American socialists (i.e., progressives) have warped and perverted the concept of rights within the minds of the American people. The fact is that no one has a right to health care any more than he has a right to a home, a car, food, spouse, or anything else.

The correct concept of rights was enunciated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, the document that Americans ironically celebrate every Fourth of July. Jefferson observed that people have been endowed with certain unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The right to life simply means that you have the right to seek to sustain your life, especially by engaging in work or other economic enterprise. It does not mean that you can force others to sustain your life for you. It also means that no one has the right to wrongfully take your life from you. That’s why we have laws against murder.

Liberty means the right to live your life any way you want, so long as your conduct is peaceful.

The right to pursue happiness isn’t the same as a right to be happy. The right entails seeking happiness, each in his own way, even if the peaceful choices one makes along the way meet with the disapproval of others. Drug usage comes to mind.

Thus, with respect to healthcare, people have a right to seek healthcare but they don’t have a right to healthcare.

What’s the difference?

Let’s assume I walk into a doctor’s office feeling ill. The doctor tells me that the visit is going to cost me $100. I refuse to pay and tell him that I have a right to healthcare. If I truly have such a right, then he is precluded from saying no when I demand free healthcare.

Yet, under the principles of liberty, self-ownership, and the pursuit of happiness, the doctor has the right to charge whatever he wants. In fact, he has the right to decide for himself who he is going to treat and not treat. It’s his body. It’s his skills. It’s his medical practice. No one has the right to force him to live for them, which is what a right to healthcare necessarily entails.

For example, lots of doctors today are refusing to treat Medicare patients because they don’t like the federal bureaucracy, rules and regulations, excessive paperwork, governmental abuse, and risk of criminal prosecution that come with this socialist program. That’s their right. Medicare patients have no right to healthcare. They cannot legally force the doctor to treat them.

So, people have the right to seek healthcare, just as they have the right to seek food, shelter, transportation, and other things. But they don’t have the right to healthcare.

The situation is the same with respect to a spouse. No one has the right to be married. If people actually had such a right, they could force another person to marry them. If such a right existed, one can imagine someone approaching another person and saying, “I have a right to a spouse and I have decided to marry you. You cannot say no because I have the right to be married.”

Thus, people have the right to seek a spouse, just as they have the right to pursue happiness. But they don’t have the right to a spouse any more than they have a right to happiness.

A right to healthcare actually destroys the right to liberty. That’s because such a right would enable people to force others to work for them, which is what slavery is all about. Let’s say, for example, that I have the right to food. I could force a farmer to work all year long to provide me with my food, for free of course. Why would I have to pay for something to which I have a right? The same with housing. If I have a right to a house, I could force a home builder to build a house for me for free.

Now, here’s the really quirky thing about a right to healthcare, food, housing, and other things. If everyone has such rights, then they can demand that everyone else provide them with such things. But if everyone is demanding that everyone else provide him with free things, it’s not difficult to see that such a society would quickly devolve into conflict, crisis, and chaos.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that no one has the right to another person’s money either. If I were to approach you, pull out a gun, and say, “Give me your money because I have a right to it and because I intend to be good with it by giving it to the poor,” you would call me a thief. That’s because I don’t have a right to your money, even if I’m putting it to good use, any more than I have the right to force you to provide me or anyone else with healthcare, food, housing, or transportation. I can ask you to donate your money to me or to someone in need, but I have no right to forcibly take it from you, either for myself or to help someone else.

But of course, as Bernie Sanders and his fellow presidential candidates will tell you, that is one of the reasons they love socialism so much. It enables them to use government to do the forcing, the stealing, and the distributing while creating the perception in people’s minds how good, caring, and compassionate public officials are.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.