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There Is No Right to Health Care


The Cuban constitution expressly states that people have a right to health care and that it is the duty of government to guarantee this right by providing hospitals, physicians, and medicine to the populace. Judging from the health-care stands of both Al Gore and George W. Bush, both of whom call for greater government involvement in health care, you would think that Americans share the Cuban conviction that there really is a right to health care.

Yet, a careful examination of the U.S. Constitution reveals that the term “health care” isn’t even mentioned. Why? The answer is a simple one: Unlike American politicians today, our Founders didn’t believe that people have a right to health care.

Let’s first keep in mind that our Constitution, unlike the Cuban one, does not grant rights to anyone. The U.S. Constitution implicitly recognized the principle that Thomas Jefferson had enunciated in the Declaration of Independence — that man has been endowed with certain fundamental rights that preexist government and that these rights include not health care (or food or education) but rather life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The purpose of government, the Declaration said, is to protect the exercise of these rights. Thus, the cornerstone of the American political system is that government is not the source of people’s rights but simply the entity charged with protecting the exercise of those rights.

While our Constitution does not give people rights, it does delineate the powers of the federal government. The idea was that if the Constitution did not grant a certain power, then the federal government was prohibited from exercising it. A careful search of the Constitution fails to reveal the grant of any governmental power to provide health care to the citizenry.

If people have a right to health care, then it stands to reason that others are required to provide it. After all, it wouldn’t be much of a right if people weren’t guaranteed it. And the only thing that can guarantee such a right is the coercive apparatus of the state. The fact that Cubans have a “right to heath care” is the reason that the Cuban government provides health care to the citizenry.

A right to health care would entitle me to walk into any physician’s office and demand to be treated for free. The law would require the physician to comply with my demand. I could enter any pharmacy and demand any drugs I wanted for free, and the pharmacist would have to give them to me. Every hospital would be at my beck and call, required by law to serve me. It would be my right.

As America’s Founders understood so clearly, this type of “right” is not liberty but rather the opposite of liberty, because it forces one person to work for or serve another person. Liberty entails every person’s right to live his life without being coerced to serve another.

Of course, government can disguise the process by taxing the citizenry to reimburse the physician, pharmacy, and hospital. But the assault on the concepts of liberty and the pursuit of happiness is just as egregious. When their money is taken from them to pay for other people’s health care, people’s range of choices — that is, their freedom — is diminished.

Moreover, as everyone knows, each new government intervention into health care creates a host of new problems, which then require more intervention. The result is an ever-growing expansion of government control over this crucially important part of our lives.

The enactment of Medicare and Medicaid in the 1960s was an assault on both the philosophy of our Constitution and the economic principles of the free market. It also constituted an abandonment of a principle that the American people had held dear for more than a century — that people have a right to freedom but not a right to health care. Rather than continuing down the Cuban road to national health care, Americans would be better served demanding an end to Medicare and Medicaid and all other governmental involvement in health care.

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    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.