Should Healthcare Be a Right?

Allan M. Block, MD

November 07, 2022

Is health care a human right?

This year voters in Oregon are being asked to decide that. In the United States, health care isn't guaranteed, as it is in many other countries.

It brings up some interesting questions. Should it be a right? Food, water, shelter, and oxygen aren't, as far as I know, considered such. So why health care?

Probably the main argument against the idea is that, if it's a right, shouldn't the government (and therefore taxpayers) be tasked with paying for it all?

Good question, and not one that I can answer. If my neighbor refuses to buy insurance, then has a health crisis he can't afford, why should I have to pay for his obstinacy and lack of foresight? Isn't it his problem?

Dr Allan Block

Of course, the truth is that not everyone can afford health care, or insurance. They ain't cheap. Even if you get coverage through your job, part of your earnings, and part of the company's profits, are being taken out to pay for it.

This raises the question of whether health care is something that should be rationed only to the working, successfully retired, or wealthy. Heaven knows I have plenty of patients tell me that. Their point is that if you're not contributing to society, why should society contribute to you?

One even said that our distant ancestors didn't see an issue with this: If you were unable to hunt, or outrun a cave lion, you probably weren't helping the rest of the tribe anyway and deserved what happened to you.

Perhaps true, but we aren't our distant ancestors. Over the millennia we've developed into a remarkably social, and increasingly interconnected, species. Somewhat paradoxically we often care more about famines on the other side of the world than we do in our own cities. If you're going to use the argument of “we didn't used to do this,” we also didn't used to have cars, planes, or computers, but I don't see anyone giving them up.

Another thing to keep in mind is that we are all paying for the uninsured under pretty much any system of health care there is. Whether it's through taxes, insurance premiums, or both, our own costs go up to pay the bills of those who don't have coverage. So in that respect the financial aspect of declaring it a right probably doesn't change the de facto truth of the situation. It just makes it more official-ish.

Maybe the statement has more philosophical or political meaning than it does practical. If it passes it may change a lot of things, or nothing at all, depending how it's legally interpreted.

Like so many things, we won't know where it goes unless it happens. And even then it's uncertain where it will lead.

Dr Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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