Comment of the Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/17.”

As he usually does, when he’s feeling frisky,  reader Extradimensional Cephalopod (above right) has dived into the issue of “health care rights” with gusto and perception. As I often do whether I’m feeling frisky or not, I have some cavils about the assumptions being made at the outset.

A right is a moral or legal entitlement to have or obtain something or to be able to do something. Moral and legal rights are two different things. When someone says, as did my friend on Facebook that started this debate. “I believe health care is a right,” he had to be asserting a moral right to healthcare, since a legal right to health care doesn’t exist. If he said, “I believe health acre should be a right,” then he would have clearly meant a legal right. That’s a policy issue. When someone argues that there is a moral right, then they are making the case for a legal right that doesn’t exist. The law in an ethical society ought to protect and advance moral rights, and society must agree what those rights are. Thus when he says, early on, “Note that a right isn’t something we owe Note that a right isn’t something we owe people just because they exist.,” he signals that he is describing legal rights only.   Moral rights are what we owe  people just because they exist. That’s why the Declaration begins with Jefferson saying that “we are endowed by our Creator” with “unalienable rights.”

Here is Extradimensional Cephalopod‘s Comment of the Day on #5 in the post, “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/30/17.”

Let’s start at the beginning. We need to define the phrase “healthcare is a right”.

A “right” is a protection or entitlement we collectively decide to give to people at the expense of our some of our freedoms because we think that society will be more robust, sustainable, able to advance, or generally pleasant to live in as a result. That’s very similar to the basis for ethics, as far as I can tell. A right is a meta-law, a limitation on what laws can be made. Rights may be conditional. Note that a right isn’t something we owe people just because they exist. It’s something we decide we owe them because we want to live in a world where people have that right–because it’s safer for us, or because it means the world will still be there for our descendants, or because it allows civilization to progress to something better, or because we want others to be happy, or all of the above. This will be important later.

Therefore, when we say, “healthcare is a right”, what we mean is “in order to make society more robust, sustainable, able to advance, or generally pleasant, we choose to sacrifice some of our individual freedoms to provide everyone with healthcare.”

We’re half done. Now, what is “healthcare”?

Let’s actually distinguish it from health insurance, because we’re smarter than Congress. Health insurance, like any insurance, is a gamble, in which people periodically pay a small amount of money to an insurance company, which will pay them back a larger amount of money (whatever is necessary, to the limit of what they are insured for) if the person’s health is in danger in a way that neither of them can predict. The idea is that the insurance company can’t predict who needs the money, but they can predict how many will need money and how much, statistically, so they accept enough money from people that they can afford to pay the people who end up needing more money. Continue reading