Research Paper: Healthcare Right or Privilege

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Health Care: Right or Privilege?

There are those who will argue that healthcare is neither a right nor a privilege, but I do not agree with them. People argue that rights are freedoms of action, not entitlements to what others produce and that a privilege is something authority figures permit us to do at their discretion. Brian Schwartz sums up this argument by stating that, "Health care is neither a right nor a privilege. Rather, we all have the right to seek medical treatment through voluntary trade or charity" (Schwartz, 2009). He goes on to suggest that "those who claim health care is a 'right and not a privilege' support policies that make it a privilege. When government enforces an alleged 'right' to health care, the political class decides what health care is and when it's appropriate for people to get it. That is, health care becomes a privilege granted by those in charge" (Schwartz, 2009). On the face of his argument, Schwartz's words seem compelling, but he conflates the notion of access to basic healthcare with the idea that this would somehow restrict other access to healthcare.

However, having looked up the definitions of the terms "right" and "privilege," I am led to a different conclusion than Schwartz. The Collins English D. dictionary defines rights as "those things that you are morally or legally entitled to do or have" (Collins English Dictionary, Rights, 2013). If defines a privilege as define a privilege as "any of the fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens of a country by its constitution" (Collins English Dictionary, Privilege, 2013). Using these definitions, I have reached the conclusion that healthcare has become a privilege in the United States, "attainable only by the wealthy, provided as a benefit solely at the discretion of an employer, a government subsidized insurance plan for the elderly or a charitable gift provided based on the goodwill of others" (Haft, 2003).

What is fascinating is that there is "only limited constitutional language specific" (Haft, 2003) to this privilege that should be a right. Currently, in the United States incarcerated individuals "are the only group who are specifically granted the right to healthcare" (Haft, 2003). In fact, this right is not affirmatively stated in any part of the U.S. Constitution, instead the "right" has been derived from the "cruel and unusual punishment" clause of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution" (Haft, 2003). Denial of basic health care has been deemed a violation of that provision, a construction that has been upheld by the Supreme Court and that requires those incarcerated in detention facilities, "as part of their humane treatment during incarceration, to be guaranteed the right to health care" (Marshall, 1976).

How has it developed that only those who are incarcerated have access to what many consider a basic human right? One reason for this is the dramatic change in healthcare since the Constitution was written and ratified. When the Constitution was drawn up "health care was generally available to all citizens" (Haft, 2003). Obviously, the health care did not meet modern standards, but there were no issues concerning "lack of affordability or lack of access to care" (H aft, 2003). As a result, access to health care would not have been considered a personal or political issue for the drafters; therefore, it should come as no surprise that there is "only limited constitutional language specific to this right" (Haft, 2003).

However, the fact that healthcare was not considered a right by the founders when they wrote the Constitution does not mean that it should remain marginalized. I believe that the resolution of this controversy is relatively simple and involves the application of ethical relativism. At the time that the Constitution was written, access to healthcare was not a major issue. However, "judgments about the rightness or wrongness of an act can legitimately vary between persons or cultures based on individual feelings (subjectivism) and specific social and cultural circumstances (cultural relativism)" (Bennett-Woods, 2005). As with all rights that Americans have fought for through the years, including basic equality regardless of race and gender, Americans need to heed a call to action and start fighting for the right to healthcare availability for all citizens. In doing so we need to make sure that the Constitution is amended to extend the same standard of treatment to all the citizens of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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