Monday, August 31, 2009

Is health care a “right”?

Members of the left have repeatedly stated that “health care is a fundamental right”. When challenged on the constitutionality, I have seen several refer to the most-quoted phrase: “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

But this is erroneous and misleading. That phrase does not come from the constitution; it comes from the 1776 Declaration of Independence. That document was written as a declaration of American values and, more importantly, a laundry lists of grievances about the abuses by the autocratic British government under King George, and was essentially a “gentleman’s advisory” to the King and his minions that the frequent and unjust treatment of the colonies had violated the colonists’ perceived “inherent rights”.

By contrast, what we now know as “the Constitution,” was the agreed-upon limitations of powers for the newly-established government of the United States of America. As James Madison said: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined." (Federalist Papers #45).

Anyone who has attempted to read the current health care bill (HR 3200) will immediately be struck by the obtuse language and expertise required to read and comprehend it. It is a perfect example of the incredibly complex, opaque language used by lawyers to legislate and cover all the many facets of a program they wish to create, and is written in a style that is so difficult it requires a great deal of legal expertise to read. To wit; it is written by lawyers, for lawyers (and bureaucrats).

But upon reading the constitution, it will become apparent that nearly any person with a reasonable education can understand the enumerated rights, and although much ado is made by the elite that you must be a “constitutional scholar” to form a valued opinion on the issue, it was never intended that way: it was written by the people and for the people. It was not written in French, which was the international diplomatic standard in those times, nor was it written in Latin. It was written in common English, in a manner comprehensible by the average, educated citizen. Why? So that the everyday voting citizen could be empowered with knowledge of his rights and would remain vigilant for any attempt by the government to usurp rights and powers from the citizenry.

Concerned that, in the distant future, the government might interpret the rights stated within the Declaration of Independence and the early constitution to be the limits of individual rights and attempt to expand its “jurisdiction” and usurp powers they did not intend it to have, the framers added the “Bill of Rights” in the first ten amendments to the constitution (introduced by James Madison). The ninth amendment advised that the first ten amendments were not to be interpreted as the “universe” or entirety of “rights” of the citizens: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the People.” And the tenth amendment specifically stated: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people (Amendment X).”

The Bill of Rights is, essentially, a list of what are known as negative rights. In brief: “Positive Rights” are those which permit or oblige action. That is to say: the government has the right to levy taxes, and therefore may take action to that regard. A “Negative Right” informs the government that it has no right to take action in that area: The congress cannot establish a religion, nor can it infringe upon the individuals’ right to keep and bear arms, for example.

So what of this “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”: Does it apply to the notion of a government option to health care?

Proponents of a government-controlled health care option claim that the word “life” meant that the government has the right to create bureaucracies to provide access to health care for all citizens.

The only place in the Bill of Rights where “life” appears is in the Fifth Amendment, regarding due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, and eminent domain: “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” This amendment made no reference at all to providing goods or services to the people; it was instead another limitation on government powers to protect the individual from tyrannical abuse of powers. The phrase “deprived of life” simply meant that the government shall not execute an individual without due process of law.

The constitution itself never states that the government has either the power or the responsibility to provide all the needs to sustain a life. Let us consider the most basic needs to sustain a life: 1) Shelter, 2) Food, and 3) Water. It is not within the government’s mandate to provide any of these “needs”. It is left up to the society at large and the ingenuity of the individual to make do to the best of his needs to provide those things. It is not up to the government to provide houses for the citizens. Nor does the government have the powers to create nationalized farms and ranches. Nor does the government have the responsibility to guarantee water to all individuals, regardless of where they choose to live; if an individual chooses to build a house in the middle of Death Valley it is incumbent upon that individual to satisfy his need for water. *(See footnote)

Health care should be considered a similar “need”. If any citizen believes that he or she cannot live a life of quality without health insurance, then let that citizen work diligently to earn sufficient money to pay for the service.

The states, on the other hand, do retain the rights to provide these additional services, if the citizenry agrees to collectively carry that burden.

In my opinion, therefore, any attempt by the federal government to create a bureaucracy to provide “affordable” health care is a violation of the constitution, and an unacceptable expansion of federal powers. To allow the federal government this latest indulgence would open Pandora ’s Box to similar compassionate consideration to provide a never ending list of “needs”. Shall the government provide transportation to all citizens? Shall it also provide mechanical services on the individuals’ vehicles? Shall it guarantee “affordable” food, creating mammoth new bureaucracies to provide subsidized sustenance? Shall it fund those conveniences upon the backs of other, more industrious individuals?

The love of Liberty requires that the individual accept the burden of personal responsibility. To demand that others sacrifice their Liberty, or their prosperity, in order to provide for your conveniences and needs, is a selfish and unconstitutional violation of the rights of other citizens. It should not be encouraged, nor shall it be tolerated.

*Footnote: Proponents to the health care plan will argue that, although the government "does not have a mandate to provide public housing", it already does so, just as it does provide education, as well as Medicare and Medicaid. This does not contradict my point in the least. Just because the federal government has previously expanded its powers beyond its constitutional mandate does not suddenly mean that to do so again is NOT another constitutional violation, or that it is made less reprehensible. Imagine that the driver of an automobile was caught driving 5 miles per hour over the limit, but the police officer only gave him a warning. Then later he is caught driving 30 miles per hour over the limit, and argues that because he was let off for speeding once, he believes that he has been exempted from speed limits. It's like the government saying: "Hey, we violated the constitution and gave the citizenry a bunch of expensive services and the citizenry didn't complain much about them, so we have the right to expand even further now."

Just because the camel got its nose under the tent does not mean it can now come live under the tent!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An excellent perspective on the issue. From a very personal point of view, if health care is a "right" these proponents should be informed that for this to be true you have to take away the "rights" of the providers to make it happen because, if it is seen as a right, then obviously the provider is obligated to accommodate. This sounds suspiciously like affirmative action where the rights are extended to a select group. We are no longer equal and do not share in the rights.