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Healthcare is a right?

by Tomasz Kaye

Many people claim that healthcare is a right. I’m going to briefly talk about the implications of this idea.

Negative rights are the rights not to have things done to yourself or your property. Broadly speaking, negative rights correspond to the right to not be interfered with, assuming that you’re not infringing on the rights of another. For instance, we might agree that a person has the right not to have anyone impose their will on them with regard to how they dispose of their property. Or we might agree that a person has the right to be free from others using force against them or even threatening to do so. Most people believe that at least some negative rights exist.

Positive rights are rights to things, rather than rights to be free from things.

While negative rights prohibit others from taking certain actions against a person. Positive rights, such as the claimed right to healthcare, require that third parties take certain actions with respect to a person.

The trouble with declaring healthcare, and similar services, to be a right is that enforcing this right is incompatible with negative rights such as the right of peaceful people to be free from force or the threat of force.

Healthcare is not abundant in nature in the sense that something like air is. It requires human labour to provide it. If we are serious about upholding a person’s positive right to healthcare we need to be prepared to threaten force against at least one of two groups of peaceful people to get them to behave in certain ways: either we need to be prepared to draft providers of healthcare directly, threatening punishment if they don’t comply, or we need to be prepared to gather the resources to compensate (non drafted) healthcare providers by extorting them from others.

In both cases the enforcement of a positive right quickly infringes on a negative right. You cannot consistently be in favour of both the right for peaceful people to be free from coercion as well as the right to healthcare, the two are not compatible.

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Resources

You can make use of the following text and video to expand your knowledge and understanding of the topic covered in this unit.

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