Rights And Responsibilities

After reading yet another article by one of our progressive legislators, I feel compelled to respond. The article discussed various means of paying for universal health coverage. I am disturbed by some apparent assumptions about rights and responsibilities.

The author, like many people today, seems to take for granted that health care is a basic right. While I will wholeheartedly agree with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I don't put health care in the same category.

There are several things that everyone needs to some degree - food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and health care. These are real and serious needs, but there is no inherent right to have your needs satisfied.

If society grants someone a right to have something of value, then it also must impose a responsibility on someone else to pay for it. It is ridiculous to say that you have the right to pay for your own health care - what is actually being suggested is that you have the right to have someone else pay for your health care.

In an affluent and compassionate society, provisions can and should be made to provide these necessities to those unable to provide them for themselves. In some cases, these might be acts of individual charity, and in others it may be decided that sociaety as a whole will collectively provide help.

It's important to make the distinction between a decison to provide help and a 'right'. If my neighbor is hungry and I have more than I need, I may feel a moral obligation to help. That does not mean he has the right to take my food.

The author argues that health care for the poor should be paid for by the wealthy. This is also a common argument, but the underlying assumptions deserve a second look. The implication is that possession of wealth is unjustified and at least a little immoral. Use of government as a tool to confiscate that wealth and redistribute it to the less well off is therefore justifiable.

While I will join with the progressives in the denunciation of unearned wealth, the opportunity to benefit from honest endeavor is a fundamental cornerstone of the American dream. The individual who studies more, goes to school longer, works harder, and takes more risks will probably end up more wealthy than those who do not. This is as it should be - wealth in this case is the measure of the individual's contribution to society. The arbitrary reallocation of this wealth to those who have not earned it is robbery, plain and simple.

I believe that everyone, after being created equal, has a right to grow up equal. Children have a right to adequate nutrition, health care, and education. In no way should they suffer for the decisions of others. However, what each adult chooses to do with their life is up to them.

Basic human dignity rests on the ability to make meaningful choices and accept real consequences. The idea that anyone can do as they please and expect someone else to take care of them is destructive to both parties. Any policy that reduces the rewards for productive behavior while also reducing the risks of irresponsible behavior will have predictable results.

Confusing needs with rights makes good rhetoric, but poor policy. We need to reassert a philosophy of government that enhances individual freedom and responsibility and empowers people to make important decisions about their lives. Taking our money to buy health care for us or to satisfy any other individual need is a step in the opposite direction.