In the context of the health care debate, I've been hearing a lot of people assert that access to health care is a fundamental human right. During my years of following politics, I've heard any number of things proposed as rights that aren't specifially spelled out in the US constitution. Among some of the more common ones:
A right to work.
A right to housing.
A right to nutrition.
A right to an education.
A right to privacy.
Now, I suppose I could play strict constructionist and argue that if it's not written down by the founding fathers, it's not a right. However the ninth amendment says, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." It seems to me easy to accept that the founding fathers would acknowledge that people had some or all of the rights listed above. Even if the founding fathers wouldn't, we certainly can today come together and agree that everything on this list, including a right to health care, is important to living a good life in today's world.
So, I'm willing to agree that you have a right to health care, a house, food, education, and privacy. It's now up to you to go out and excercise them. A right is not the same thing as a guaranteed service. It doesn't mean that you are owed anything, or given anything. It merely means that, if you choose to excercise a right, no government can stop you from doing so.
For instance, at the top of the bill of rights, you are granted the right to free speech, and freedom of the press. Note that this right doesn't mean the government has to provide you with a printing press and free paper. It doesn't have to provide you with blogs or billboards or megaphones. If you want to use your right to free speech, you have to do the work of writing your blog, or publishing a newspaper, or plugging in your ham radio set, or going down to the town hall and shouting till your throat is raw.
Next on the bill of rights is the right to bear arms. After two centuries of fence straddling, the Supreme Court has finally said that, yes, this guarantees the right of an individual to own a firearm. It does not, by any legal theory or argument, mean that the government has to mail you a voucher to go out and buy a rifle. You have a right, but to take advantage of it, you'll have to spend your own money.
You have a right to housing. While at one time there were definitely discriminatory practices against blacks or jews or catholics or what have you, none of that is legal today. There is no governmental force standing in the way of you going out and getting all the housing you can handle. You can own five or six or seventy houses if you so choose, and take the neccessary financial steps to make it happen.
You want a right to work? Well... what's stopping you? People who don't speak english, who can't read our want ads, and who have no social security cards come across our borders in waves and mow our lawns and diaper our children; they pick our peaches and package our pork. There are no barriers to most people's ability to work beyond their dignity. I'm not knocking dignity! I work at a desk, not in a ditch. But, a right to work doesn't mean that the goverment is obligated to give you full employment in the trade of your choice. I want to make a living writing fiction, but I don't expect the government to guarantee me a living wage while attempting to do this.
You want an education? You're in luck! Every state in the union provides one for free. Most towns have libraries where you can study up on any subject you want. Again, it wasn't that long ago that armed men would line up around a school house to keep children of the wrong color from walking through the door. But today, if you aren't getting an education, you really just aren't trying. We have more information at our finger tips than ever. So why do I keep running into cashiers who can't count correct change?
Which brings us to health care: I think costs are insane. I think it's unfair that sick people should lose their houses and their livelihoods. But, again, the right to health care is a right that individuals have to excercise. The vast majority of American's get the treatment they need without losing everything they've earned because they've made life choices that saw that they would have insurance. It's not always easy, but it's not impossible. The statistic Obama quoted the other night was that 33 million Americans have no insurance. That means roughly 267 million Americans are excersizing their rights to obtain health insurance in some form or fashion. It's not impossible.
I'm not so naive to think that all men are created equal. There are people out there who have had the bad genetic luck to be born without the intelligence to function independently. There are others who are going to encounter really awful luck; young mothers get the phone call in the night and learn that their husband's plane has crashed, or heathy, twenty-year old college students who get diagnosed with bone cancer. A kind and caring society will band together to assist these people in difficult times.
Still, for those people who are arguing that health care is a right, I'd like to say that I agree with you. I certainly won't stand in the way of you going out and getting some. I won't stop you from getting a gun, a megaphone, or printing press, either. I'm just not completely clear, however, on why anyone else has a moral obligation to spend money to pay for you to use rights you already possess.