Health Care Is a Right Only if Doctors Surrender Theirs

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Bernie Sanders is convinced that promising Americans guaranteed health care is the modern equivalent of “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage,” but he is not alone. In some form or another, health care consistently tops every poll that gauges what makes Democrats tick.

So now that the race has narrowed to “Biden vs. Bernie,” it is time to ask what we the American people will be getting if the No. 1 issue on the Democrats’ agenda is actually implemented.

First of all, we should recognize that there is no realistic difference between any two Democrats on this topic, though some pretend they don’t want to bankrupt the economy by fully funding guaranteed health care for all. In fact, they all agree with Sanders that “health care is a right,” and that means they will ultimately try to buy health care for everyone, no matter how expensive it is.

But when you ask them how or why health care is a right in the same way that life and liberty are human rights, you get circular answers or misleading ones. It is a right because it is important, we are told. Or it is a right because it is unfair for some people to get better treatment than others merely because they have more money. By that reckoning, there is a right to fly first class.

If the difference is that health care is essential to quality of life, then let us consider something else that is essential to quality of life — shelter. Without shelter, most of us would perish, or at least be miserable, yet there is little insistence that shelter is a fundamental human right.

In our major cities, for instance, homelessness is at epidemic proportions, yet Democrats don’t talk about the necessity of building emergency housing at enormous cost so that everyone is protected from the elements, disease and crime. Why? Because you cannot provide shelter to those who don’t want it, nor can you provide it without taking resources from those who would not willingly surrender them.

In the novel and film “Doctor Zhivago,” we see the homes of the rich turned into squatters’ camps for the bourgeoisie, but in America we are loath to requisition the wealth of the fortunate to supply the needs of the unfortunate. This is partly due to a sense of fairness, but also thanks to the awareness that wealth cannot be fragmented without also being squandered. Witness the end result of the Russian Revolution depicted in “Zhivago.” Greater poverty and more despair.

So although shelter and health care are essential to maintaining the best “quality of life,” that is different from saying that they are essential to life itself. Many things impact quality of life, but they cannot all be human rights.

Consider: If shelter is a human right, then why am I paying for my rent or mortgage at all? Shouldn’t I just be able to move in, unpack and enjoy the fruits of my — OK, maybe not my, but someone’s — labor? This same conundrum applies when you extend the “human right” label to things like nutrition and, of course, health care. We all have a human “need” for food, but do we have the human “right” to walk in the grocery store and take what we need without paying for it? If so, who is going to pay the wages for the grocery store workers, and who is going to plant the fields and tend the animals when farmers are obligated to give away their bounty because of someone else’s human “right”?

By the same token, of course, free health care — under whatever rubric you care to use — means that doctors, nurses and other health professionals are enlisted in a kind of indentured servitude. Because of my “right” to affordable health care, the health workers are forced to provide for my needs without regard for their own security, their own income and their own families’ needs. The end result would be to force the brilliant people who practice medicine into other fields where they would be rewarded for their work, and to create a cadre of low-paid health care workers who just needed a job.

Joe Biden is a bit more circumspect than Bernie about declaring that “health care is a right,” but he is pandering to the same instinct for a better world that feeds the socialist vision of Sanders. From, we learn that the former vice president “believes that every American has a right to the peace of mind that comes with knowing they have access to affordable, quality health care.”

I’m not sure if that’s better or worse than Sanders’ claim that health care itself is a right. At least, by spending ourselves into bankruptcy, we can indeed provide health care to everyone — even if it is not good health care — but how exactly does Biden propose to implement the “right to peace of mind”? What if thousands or even millions of people remain anxious despite having access to “affordable, quality health care”? What happens to their right to peace of mind then? Nothing, of course, because that right doesn’t really exist any more than a right to health care does.

We all have the right to make decisions about our own health care, but we don’t have the right to requisition someone else’s money to implement those decisions. The “right to health care” is nothing more than the robber’s “right” to take whatever he wants and leave you whatever he doesn’t “need.”

Whichever Democrat prevails in the nomination fight, it will be up to President Trump to push back against the temptation of free health care and to remind Americans that our strength as a nation is our precious individual rights, not the cheap slogans of communism. Let the battle begin.

Frank Miele, the retired editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell Mont., is a columnist for RealClearPolitics. His books — including “The Media Matrix: What If Everything You Know Is Fake?” — are available from his Amazon author page. Visit him at to read his daily commentary or follow him on Facebook @HeartlandDiaryUSA or on Twitter @HeartlandDiary.

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