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

Comment of the Day: “Two Mothers, Young Love and Deception”

Lianne Best, who writes a weekly newspaper column about the challenges of a working wife and mother, weighs in with the alternative point of view regarding my post about a friend’s handling of her daughter’s boyfriend’s deception. I was afraid someone was going to write this, because I find the argument persuasive and it makes me doubt the wisdom of my advice. Still, I think I support my friend’s decision not to blow the whistle on the boyfriend, primarily because he’s 17, not 15. By 17, a child is engaged in an ongoing controversy about autonomy, trust and boundaries; the boyfriend is accountable for defying his mother, but it is his life and I would grant him the right to make his own mistakes, if mistakes they are, without my active interference. Lianne is persuasive, however…and she has a teenage daughter and son of her own:

“I like the advice … but because the horse has already left the barn far behind.

“I am actually pretty horrified that Julia is actively participating in and abetting the subterfuge. Even if she doesn’t agree with Ishmael’s mother’s rules (and let’s note they could be his father’s rules too; and maybe his church’s rules, and his culture’s rules), that doesn’t mean she should be actively plotting to subvert them.

“In this instance were it my own daughter, I would NOT take the decisive action of contacting Ishmael’s mother, but NEITHER would I allow him to spend the night there, and help my daughter make up stories and situations to enable the relationship. She’s happy? Please. Teenage female happiness is tenuous and temporary at best. (Has anyone on here LIVED with a 16-year-old girl??) It’s one year, probably less, until Ishmael is 18. So much can (and will) change in that year! Until then, group get-togethers (movie dates and parties) should be fine. Continue reading

Ethics Challenge: Two Mothers, Young Love and Deception

A good friend—call her Julia— with a teenage daughter (she’s 16) recently  asked me for help with an ethical dilemma.

Julia’s daughter is quiet, seemingly conservative, and socially restrained. She has never had a boyfriend, and has been on few dates, until now. She has been seeing a young man—call him Ishmael— her own age (well, he’s 17) who seems to match her to perfection in every respect. He’s sensitive, polite, and witty,  and on top of everything, he’s really cute, the object of every one of her friends’ and rivals’ awe.

Of course, there is a problem. Ishmael’s mother is fanatically protective: he is not supposed to date until he is 18, and has to check in with her every hour when he is out of the house. The relationship with my friend’s daughter only exists through an elaborate subterfuge, involving complicit friends and relayed phone messages. Once, in order to facilitate a special date to go to a concert, Julia allowed the boy to sleep overnight (in the guest room), when he was supposedly staying a male friend’s house.

My friend wanted to know if she should tell the boy’s mother about his web of lies. A parent has a right to have his or her own rules respected, and not undermined by other parents. The Golden Rule, applied to Ishmael’s mother, yields a demand that she be told; Julia would want to be told if her child was systematically defying her.

On the other hand, she firmly believes that the mother’s restriction on her son are excessive, and she has never known her daughter to be so happy.  She is worried that informing the mother will cause a serious rift with her daughter, and perhaps worse. “What is the ethical course?” she asked me. “What should I do?” Continue reading