Health Care is Not a Right

First Published: 2003-09-09

“We must introduce universal access to quality, affordable health care—not as a privilege, but as a right.”

This statement was made recently as part of the discussion concerning the alleged need for a new Bahamian health care program. Unfortunately, most people find nothing wrong with this statement, since, as a society, we have come to believe that everyone has a right to basic medical services. However, it is based on the false premise that “health care” is a commodity that the government has the right to seize and redistribute at its whim.

It is a false premise because it abrogates a fundamental principle of a free society, namely, the principle of individual freedom. It ignores the fact that without considerable mental and physical effort on the part of doctors and the other medical professionals, there is no health care in the first place.

Therefore, if the government has a right to control the distribution of health care, it logically follows that the government must control the lives and minds of the individuals who provide it. And that is exactly what happens in a socialized medical system. In Canada, for example, doctors are told who they can see, how many patients they can treat, how much they can charge, what their income shall be, and the services they shall provide.

Similarly, for a socialized system to work, government must also control the lives of the patients—telling them which doctors they can see and when, and forbidding them to freely negotiate with, and hire the services of medical professionals of their own choosing. A socialized medical system results in total disregard for the individual freedom of both the medical professionals and their patients. It’s no wonder many of the best professionals escape this slavery and go elsewhere to practice their profession.

In a free society, government has a primary responsibility to protect the rights of individuals to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness (their own). A socialized medical system takes away these rights and expects medical professionals to become public servants to selflessly sacrifice their time, knowledge, ability and resources to satisfy the alleged needs of their patients. Typically, the bureaucracy of such a system tends to continually squeeze out more and more effort for less and less reward as the costs increase—and they always do in government controlled programs.

Every doctor and every nurse, like the rest of us, have a right to work for themselves and for their own enjoyment, and to make as much money as they can without the threat of coercion by government. And similarly, patients have the right to accept or reject the advice and services, and to shop around for the best value they can get. Unfortunately, in a socialized system, this is not possible—neither for the medical professionals nor the patients.

You have a right to your life, but no one has a right to health care. An “individual right” is the freedom to act within one’s means; it is not an entitlement to the goods and services provided by other individuals, regardless of the perceived need. Unfortunately, the philosophy of altruism has taught us that one’s need has priority over another’s ability (Marxism)—which implies that doctors have a duty to support poor and sick patients. This philosophy teaches that those who “need” the medical services (the patients) are morally superior to the providers of the services (the doctors and the nurses). And of course, it’s usually the bureaucrats (managed care companies, oversight agencies, peer review committees, etc.) that determine the “need”, rather than the professional providers.

The best and the brightest and the most capable will not work under such a system—a system that used to be called slavery. And patients have discovered that it is not safe to trust your life to a professional who resents the loss of control over their own ability. And it is still less safe if he/she is one who doesn’t resent it (i.e. doesn’t care). It is no wonder that Canada is suffering from a serious shortage of good professionals and top-rate services. And it is no wonder that more and more Canadian patients go to the US for treatment.

Medical professionals, according to their own free will, are usually the best at freely helping those who “need” help, especially when they can enjoy practicing their profession as they themselves see fit. It’s called volunteer pro bono work. They are not so inclined when they are forced to do it by a socialized medical system. And of course, all of us are free to offer assistance to those who deserve our assistance, according to our own judgment and means—and many of us do.

The solution is a private medical system that respects and honours the heroic efforts of medical professionals, and leaves them free to offer their skills and abilities, the same as plumbers, technicians, engineers, lawyers and architects.

Before the Bahamas implements a socialized medical system, I beseech the decision-makers to listen carefully to the professionals who have escaped the slavery of a socialized system in order to preserve their professional freedom. And also listen carefully to the professionals who are still practicing under a socialized system, and who have reached their income cap and only work part time, even though there is a shortage of skilled medical practitioners—a shortage that results in patients dying unnecessarily. Of course, they refuse to work for free.

Forget about talking to the altruistic bureaucrats—the slave masters—you already know that they will argue that health care is a right, and that it’s okay to enslave the professionals.

As one who has experienced a variety of health care programs throughout the world, I can say from first hand experience that health care is much too important to be left in the hands of government bureaucrats. Quality care can only come from the hands of proud, independent, private medical professionals.

Maurice Marwood

September 2003

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