Is 'healthcare' a right?

Most commentary on the current health care crisis, however one may define such a broad and ambiguous concept, evenutally gets down to the philsophical, even moral question, of whether or not healthcare is a right. There are complex and sundry proposals for addressing the health care crisis, from market-based approaches to national health care plans. The loosely-defined goal of these various policy approaches seems to be something along the lines of reducing the cost of healthcare and allowing it to be more available to those in need.

As with all complex political and social issues, there is a real problem of terminology in the health care debate. It seems that the advancement of complex proposals is getting ahead of the need to define exactly what is the problem.

A problem, no doubt, there is. There are 40 million Americans that do not have health insurance coverage of any kind, and many of these citizens are unable to be treated for ailments ranging from the flu to cancer.

To determine whether or not healthcare is a fundamental right, we have to state exactly what we mean by healthcare. Is every activity that I take in connection with my health to be considered healthcare? When I go to my family doctor to receive a prescription, that seems to me to be healthcare. But, what about when I go to the gym to stay fit, or brush my teeth twice a day. Those activities are also healthcare. For some health care services, I must rely on others, but for other services, I can rely on myself. Naturally, I want to optimize my health in the cheapest possible manner. Therefore, I take responsibility for preventative actions such as regular exercise and brushing my teeth. However, if I were in a serious car accident tomorrow, I would gladly hand over my entire net worth (not that much) to health professionals to keep me alive.

I think one of the underlying complications deeply embedded within all health policy debates is the following: What is a responsibility to me is not necessarily a responsibility for other members of society. I don't mean that others are abdicating their inherent responsibility to take care of themselves. Not everyone has the resources that I do, and that includes knowledge. At the risk of being branded elitist, I know more about how to take care of myself than some other people. At the same time, I know less about how to take care of myself than some other people.

Of course, there are also those that know how to take are of themselves but don't do it, becasue they are willing to take the risk, i.e. smokers. Health complications arising from this type of self-chosen irresponsibility should not be subsized by the rest of society.

How do we craft a policy that encourages everyone to take care of themselves to the best of their ability when this ability varies greatly across geographic, demographic and economic strata? Those that do their best to practice self health care should, I believe, expect to be subsized by the rest of society when they have exhausted their own resources.

I would formulate my current thinking like this: Healthcare necessary beyond the exhaustion of personal responsibility is a right, but personal responsibility is not the same for everyone. How we measure such an abstract concept is down the road a little ways. Right now, I'm just trying to get a grasp on basic concepts. There are a lot of moving parts to this debate.

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