Faith and the ‘Right’ to Health Care
It will be interesting to see how constituents respond as Congresspersons go home during the August recess. Here is one set of three videos illustrating constituent responses. I’m sure there will be videos released by both sides trying to shape public opinion of that reception.
Again one must wonder about the language of the ‘right’ to health care. What do we mean when we say that Americans have a ‘right’ to quality health care? There are, broadly speaking, two ways of thinking about rights. A ‘right’ may be a God-given thing, and this is the way it is construed in the Declaration of Independence, that people “are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” One can also think of a ‘right’ as something that is granted, humanly, through social contract.
In the former sense, rights are non-negotiable. They are simply given by God, and the question is whether or not they will be recognized by humans. In the latter sense, rights can evolve. A society can determine that it will give its citizens a ‘right’ to privacy, for instance. It’s questionable whether this is a ‘right,’ strictly speaking, but it remains one of the ways in which rights language is used.
As persons of faith, do we think that people have a God-given ‘right’ to health care? A right is a legal or moral entitlement? Are people legally or morally entitled to health care? Keep in mind that when we grant that a person has a right, we create a constraint upon our government to provide that right. We are not merely saying that ‘it is right’ that a person should receive quality health care. We’re saying that a person is entitled to have government (at least as a last resort, if no one else will) provide that right. In other words, just because I as an individual and a Christian have a moral-religious obligation to care for the sick, that does not mean that I should believe that our government must provide for the sick. The moral constraints upon individuals need not be made into legal constraints upon governments.
Well, even if there is such a right, at what quality must it be delivered? Do people have a right to high-quality health care? Do they have a right to have all of their health care costs covered, no matter how extreme? Who determines the boundaries of that ‘right’?
Personally, I think the language of rights has run amuck in our social discourse. People cannot content themselves to argue that we should improve our health care system and make quality health care more affordable. They have to say that quality health care is a fundamental right. I do believe, as Pope Benedict said in his recent encyclical, that we have become an entitlement culture, focused on what is due to me, rather than on what is required of me in my care for others. I fear we are turning more and more to government for what government cannot provide at all, or cannot provide as well, as efficiently, or as morally as we could provide more directly for one another.