Thoughts on Health Care as a Right

As MJ posted yesterday, Pope Benedict was in the news this week in regards to health care this week. A couple things struck me as interesting about this article, and the debate that immediately sprang up around it here.

1. It’s Not All About US Politics

It’s not often that those in the Commonweal and National Catholic Reporter set get to rub their political opponents noses in something and play the, “You’re not a very good Catholic, are you?” game, so it’s hardly surprising if there’s been a bit of crowing in some circles. However, as is often the case, I think it’s a mistake to see this as primarily relating to recent US political struggles, much though Catholic Democrats would like to imagine that the pope is admonishing the USCCB for not supporting ObamaCare. Indeed, the pope’s sentiments should be rather castening to those of us in the developed world:

The theme of this year’s meeting was “Caritas in Veritate – toward an equitable and human health care.”

The pope lamented the great inequalities in health care around the globe. While people in many parts of the world aren’t able to receive essential medications or even the most basic care, in industrialized countries there is a risk of “pharmacological, medical and surgical consumerism” that leads to “a cult of the body,” the pope said.

“The care of man, his transcendent dignity and his inalienable rights” are issues that should concern Christians, the pope said.

Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”

“Justice in health care should be a priority of governments and international institutions,” he said….

Now maybe I’m off, but it strikes me that this ought to give a bit of perspective to those who think that the Greatest Issue Of Our Times is whether everyone in the richest country in the world has an insurance policy which absolutely guarantees that no matter what ails him, he will never have to pay more than he can comfortably afford out of pocket for state-of-the-art care. Perhaps rather more central to the pope’s thoughts than these issues of American politics is the plight of people in the developing world who can’t get basic medicines and treatments which would cost only a few dollars per life saved.

2. Rights Talk Is Tricky

I don’t know if this is primarily an American vs. European difference, or one between secular political terms and Catholic theological ones, but the use by the Church of the term “right” in relation to a “right to adequate health care” or a “right to food” or a “right to shelter” presents confusion to most American ears. Americans are, after all, most familiar with the idea of “rights” a laid out in our Bill of Rights: the right to free speech, the right to a trial by one’s peers, the right to bear arms.

The first and third of these are pretty clearly cases where a person, unencumbered by some outside force, is able to say what he wishes and arm himself if he wishes, and the “right” consists of the government not coming in and taking that ability away from him by force. The right to a trial by one’s peers may seem at first glance to be a right to be given something by the government, but I think in this case it is more rightly seen as a right not to receive a punishment or judgement against oneself unless the rightness of it is determined by a jury of one’s peers. In this sense, the jury trial is a protection against things being unjustly taken from one.

Against this background, it seems odd to say that one has a right to health care or a right to food, because one does not already have these things. To the best of my understanding, it seems to me that what is meant here is that:

a) Things like food, shelter and basic medical care are human necessities and

b) We as a human community have a duty to make sure that all those among us have some basic amount of these things.

How exactly this is worked out seems to me to be a question open to a number of different approaches. Right in this sense are not necessarily free, nor are they necessarily provided via a statist regime. The idea of food and shelter being human rights (in this sense) is certainly not new, but few people anywhere suggest it is the best thing for society if food is centraly provided to all, or that shelter be free to everyone. The term “basic” or “adequate” also is noteably present in these sort of statements by the Church — and it seems to me quite arguable that “basic” does not necessarily mean “million dollar treatments available for a twenty dollar copay and nothing else ever”.

Whether, given these differences, it is productive to talk about health care being a human right in the context of America is, I think, an open question. Different nations and cultures do, after all, have different histories of political discourse. But in that the Pope is using the term, it is guaranteed to make headlines. And as such, it is doubtless our duty as Catholics to come to some sort of an understanding of what it does and does not mean in a Catholic context.

41 Responses to Thoughts on Health Care as a Right

  • MarylandBill says:

    I think the distinction between the different types of right is useful. If it hadn’t been poisoned by how it is used in this country, the word entitlement is perhaps a better term than right. I.e., I have the right to do X, I am entitled to Y by the society I live in (whether by the government, churches, etc.).

    I also agree that this is not, nor should not be looked at as a chastisement of the current health care bill (I object to the term ObamaCare for two reasons, 1. it was written substantially by congress, and 2. large parts of it were based on Republican ideas for Health Care reform from the 1990s). Certainly, the Pope made clear that the right extended to unborn as well (Which was the key reason the Bishops opposed it.

    I do however, think that at least some of the Pope’s talk can and should be applied to the United States. In particular I object to your characterization of the Health Care debate in this country as being about “an insurance policy which absolutely guarantees that no matter what ails him, he will never have to pay more than he can comfortably afford out of pocket for state-of-the-art care”. I don’t know your personal history, but based on this statement, I can only conclude that you have never faced a major medical bill. Even something as basic as the birth of a child can cost $10,000 or more — even if there are no complications. Even with insurance (Which normally will pay 80% after the deductible… which would be applied both to mother and child), the bill can easily hit $3000.

    Now, I don’t know about you, but $3000 is beyond what I would consider comfortably affordable… particularly if it was for a medical emergency which is harder to plan for than the birth of a child. And remember this is with insurance. As the sole income earner of a young family, a $10,000 (pretty much the minimum I expect for a hospital stay without insurance) bill would exhaust my rainy day fund (You might think I should have saved more… but I invite you to find space in my budget to save more than I do), and require that I did into retirement and/or college savings.

    Of course, anything really serious, and the bill will run into the many tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars (without insurance).

    To give a little example.

    My brother, who also happens now to be a priest, has lived in England for almost 20 years now. Before he entered the seminary, he was working in the sort of temporary job that doesn’t pay much, and in this country is unlikely to come with insurance. He found a lump. In this country, he may have put off going to get it checked out because of how much it would have cost; that decision would have cost him his life. The lump was cancer, and the English Medical system saved his life. I know the English “Socialized Medicine” is not a popular idea in the United States (by either the left or the right), but it not only saved my brother’s life, it saved the life of a future priest. Even if he had gotten it checked out in this country, he would have ended up deeply in debt (and likely taken out the savings of my parents, myself, and my other brother as we tried to help him as much as we could have!).

    Obtaining adequate health care is an issue in the United States, just as much as it is in the third world. Yes, the United States has better health care available, but in both, making it affordable to all is the basic challenge. I don’t know if going to a socialist approach to medicine is the answer (Though frankly, at the rate our society is aging, a large proportion of our population is already in a socialist system or soon will be), but I do know the current system is broken. We pay far more for health care than anyone else in the world, and yet many of our outcomes are worse than the rest of the industrialized world (which do have socialized medicine).

  • DarwinCatholic – I really enjoyed reading both your and MJ’s post/comments. I had a good laugh about the need on waiting for Pope Weigel’s analysis. That my friend is the best line of the day if not of the entire week. I need to re-read both posts so this entire dialog sinks in a little deeper. Truth be told I am a Hillbilly Thomist therefore I have more questions than a statement.

    Is health care a moral matter? Is the view of the Church or the Holy Father on this secular topic infallible? Can good Catholics disagree and still be faithful Catholics? What about the autonomy of the temporal order as it relates to this topic? Health care, at least the prudent application of it, falls in the role of the laity. To be sure we can agree to disagree at that juncture. I am not attempting to be herectical here either and that’s why I am asking questions.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Darwin,

    “Perhaps rather more central to the pope’s thoughts than these issues of American politics is the plight of people in the developing world who can’t get basic medicines and treatments which would cost only a few dollars per life saved.”

    You know, I don’t doubt this, but that makes the statements even LESS realistic. How on Earth can you declare a universal, inalienable right to a scarce resource! If it is scarce then not everyone can have it and anyone who does have it can lose it; if it isn’t scarce than no one needs to have a right to it.

    Here is ONE area I think the Pope and many libertarians can agree on – modify or get rid of intellectual property rights! It’s through that nonsense that more efficient producers in the third world have been barred from making cheap medicine because first world behemoths own the patents. We don’t need to declare more inalienable rights – we need to strip certain entities of the “right” to be rent-seeking parasites.

    And yes, there is a difference between active and passive rights. The language of natural law, of classical liberalism and of Pope Leo XIII had been active – you have a right to DO something, not necessarily to have something. Social democrats, American liberals, and I guess the modern Church now uses passive rights; you have the right to have something given to you. You have the right to some good or service.

    The only good or service that I think we recognize as a right – according to our Anglo-American heritage anyway – is to an attorney if we are arrested. And even that’s been problematic time and again. Public defenders are severely overworked, innocent people slip through the cracks because they didn’t get a good defense, state budgets can’t afford to lighten the load by hiring new people; yet everyone has a constitutional right and to counsel.

    Declaring things a right doesn’t help get them to people who need them. It creates a mess of problems instead. We should focus on abolishing the real obstacles between the world’s poor and the medical treatments they need – rent-seeking parasitism from the first world and a lack of respect for property rights and markets in the third world. The WTO has little to do with free trade; its regulations are a part of the problem too.

    http://mises.org/daily/1380

    I finally “get it.” Glad it happened before I turned 30.

  • M.J. Andrew says:

    Is health care a moral matter?

    Well, it has a deep moral dimension insofar as the Church teaches it is a basic right. It’s hard to deny that when the Church says it is derived (i.e., entailed by) the right to life and it describes the right as “basic” and “inalienable.” You are definitely correct that there is much prudential judgment involved in determining how best to fulfill that right. The moral dimension involves the obligation to fulfill and protect the right rather than the mode of fulfillment and protection.

    The Catholic view on rights is that they are BOTH negative/passive and active. They entail prohibitions and moral obligations of fulfillment.

    Is the view of the Church or the Holy Father on this secular topic infallible?

    Probably. The teaching was not issued via an exercise of extraordinary infallibility, but it’s hard to imagine the Church being wrong about a statement about a basic inalienable right. I see this very much along the same lines as the authority of the Church’s teaching on contraception.

    Supposing the Church is not infallible on this matter (i.e., the Church may be in error on a matter of basic human rights), it would still be an authoritative teaching. After all, infallible teaching and binding teaching are not extensionally equivalent (Lumen Gentium 25; First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ 3).

    Can good Catholics disagree and still be faithful Catholics?

    Probably not, since they would be challenging a moral teaching issued in a papal encyclical and continually affirmed by subsequent popes and bishops. This would not be the same as, say, challenging Leo XIII on the role that women are most suited by nature to fulfill.

    The Church’s doctrine of rights [iura] goes back at least to St. Isidore, and finds its fullest and most lucid formulations in Aquinas (which is why CST picked up Aquinas’ view). On this view, moral obligations toward others are derived from a set of basic, inalienable rights, so it would be odd to think that a Catholic can knowingly reject the Church’s position on a source of moral obligation and still be a “good Catholic.” I would say that those who deny that there is a right to access to adequate health care are either woefully ill-informed about the Catholic tradition on right (and reject the teaching on account of pride in one’s own learning and misunderstanding) or they are disposed to challenge the authority of the Church on moral matters. In either case, it’s hard for me to think of such a Catholic as a “good Catholic.”

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    You know there’s quite an irony here.

    I’ve been hearing from MJ since the beginning of this Locke debate that there is this really important difference between Locke and Aquinas – the position they take on the source of good; is it independent of God, or is it God’s will? I don’t think it has one darned thing to do with our debate, but I will say this: it is interesting to me that people who seem to me to be taking the position that we shouldn’t obey God’s will just because it’s God’s will are the first to argue that we should obey the Church’s teaching just because it’s the Church’s teaching.

    What happened to reason? What happened to “reasonableness” as this wonderful criteria for determining what we ought to do? What happened to declaring obedience to the will of a higher authority as “voluntarism”? All of this was at least implied in our discussions.

    I think this is a problem of language more than anything else. I think everyone with a conscience wants everyone who needs health care to have access to it. But I also think it is short-sighted to declare a tangible and scarce good an inalienable, universal right. That has implications that no society can prepare to meet.

    I’m sorry you don’t consider some of us “good Catholics.” But I would have been considered a bad one a long time ago for going to Latin Mass by the same people who shifted away from Leo’s understanding social teaching to this modern view. So I’ll just add one more thing to the list.

  • MJAndrew says:

    it is interesting to me that people who seem to me to be taking the position that we shouldn’t obey God’s will just because it’s God’s will are the first to argue that we should obey the Church’s teaching just because it’s the Church’s teaching.

    Did I say where I stand on the intellectualist/voluntarist debate? I have not counted myself publicly in either camp. All I have said is that this debate has enormous implications for the nature of rights and how they are to be understood, which is one of the main reasons Locke and Aquinas disagree on the nature of value, rights, and, more specifically, the right to property.

    But I also think it is short-sighted to declare a tangible and scarce good an inalienable, universal right. That has implications that no society can prepare to meet.

    So you are, after all, accusing Pope Benedict XVI, his predecessors Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, of “short-sightedness.” And, naturally, you do not suffer from such short-sightedness since you know better than to think that access to adequate health care is a right.

    As for scarcity, to my knowledge, there have been physicians dating back to the earliest civilizations. It appears you are confusing the difference between a right to something and the historically contingent availability of that something. Indeed, you are not the short-sighted one. Perhaps we can blame the Ludwig Von Mises Institute or Acton Institute for not having the answer you need for this.

    I have a right to life, which puts moral obligations on others in the form of prohibitions against killing and doing injury as well as positive duties to fulfilling that right. Now, imagine I am drowning in a lake and someone walks by. Do they not have a moral obligation to save me if they can? On the Church’s view, yes. But suppose now that there is no one to save me. It’s just me drowning in the lake. Do I suddenly have no right to life since there is such a scarcity of people available to save me? Of course not. The same is true in the case of all basic rights on the Church’s view. Wide availability of means for fulfillment is not a necessary condition for a basic right on the Church’s view. Incidentally, the same is true of libertarian negative rights; no informed libertarian would say that scarcity of means is an indication that there is no basic inalienable right.

    To help you with this, imagine another case. Suppose there is a time period in the world when virtually all the food has been consumed, material resources have been depleted and rendered unusable, and the earth is so polluted that we have no hope of growing crops or tending livestock anytime soon. Would this mean that, since there would be such a scarcity of private property, a tangible and scare good, a libertarian would say that there is not an inalienable right to private property? OF course not. Again, scarcity of means of fulfillment has no bearing whether there is a inalienable right.

    The place where you would need to argue against Pope Benedict XVI is where he derives the right to access to adequate health care from the right to life. That’s where the Pope is doing the work. Focusing on scarcity is a dead-end for the one wants to bring a case against the Pope’s “short-sightedness.”

  • Zach says:

    I don’t so much want to argue with the right’s origins – I’ll accept that such a right exists if the Church really says so. What I cannot accept or understand are the utterly empty definitions provided by the Pope and other Bishops.

    The right is contentless. “Health care” can mean so many different things.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    MJ,

    “So you are, after all, accusing Pope Benedict XVI, his predecessors Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, of “short-sightedness.”

    If they are saying what I think they are saying – but I’m not even 100% sure about that.

    “Perhaps we can blame the Ludwig Von Mises Institute or Acton Institute for not having the answer you need for this.”

    What insulting garbage. It’s sad you can’t argue without this. Pitiful.

    “I have a right to life, which puts moral obligations on others in the form of prohibitions against killing and doing injury as well as positive duties to fulfilling that right”

    That’s not all the right does, first of all. The right to property is a corollary of OUR obligation to preserve ourselves and others. But this does not mean a right to any particular thing, any scarce commodity. It is a right to obtain what need to live from nature by our labor or from the property of another through theft. But as RC points out, you may have a right to steal bread in order to live, but you don’t have a right to have bread continually supplied to you if you can support yourself through labor. It’s for extreme cases only.

    “But suppose now that there is no one to save me. It’s just me drowning in the lake. Do I suddenly have no right to life since there is such a scarcity of people available to save me? Of course not.”

    It’s you who obviously doesn’t understand what scarcity means. Let me put it to you this way: if by some magic health care wasn’t a scarce resource – meaning it could be produced in abundance to satisfy all demand – and we could declare it a positive right, you wouldn’t lose that right because for some reason it couldn’t be supplied to you. But no tangible good that is the product of human labor and subject to economic laws will ever be able to satisfy all demand. So to declare that EVERYONE has a positive right to it is short-sighted if there’s no way everyone can actually have it.

    The word “access” is perhaps where we are getting lost; theoretically everyone has as much a right to “access” health care where it is available, just as everyone has a right to the fruits of their labor and what they can obtain by exchanging those fruits for another thing. But to say it is a positive, universal, inalienable right almost always leads to the conclusion that someone or something must provide that thing for everyone. “Access” isn’t a scarce resource, fair enough. But the actual thing being accessed is.

    I suppose as long as we keep that in mind, no one has to disagree with what the Pope said. But no one EVER disputed “access” in the sense that people have a right to a service they can make a legitimate exchange for. So either this is saying nothing new at all, or it is saying something profoundly new.

    “Would this mean that, since there would be such a scarcity of private property, a tangible and scare good, a libertarian would say that there is not an inalienable right to private property? OF course not.”

    So then the Pope is agreeing with the libertarian view of rights? Ok, sounds good to me. There is an inalienable right to property, including health care, which you have to exchange your property in order to get, but not a positive one. When you combine those two, on the other hand, you get the argument that it is immoral for a person NOT to have health care, even if they have the right to “access” it but can’t because they can make no legitimate exchange. That’s how I see it.

    So to be clear, its this view I am calling short-sighted. I’m not even sure that is the pope’s view, because it was you and not he who said “positive right.”

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Lets look at an example to illustrate my point: the right to counsel. It is one of the few – it may be the only, in fact – positive rights in our entire theory of rights in the Anglo-American tradition. Everyone has the right to have a lawyer appointed to them if they are arrested and charged with a crime.

    In practice, we’ve seen individual states’ public defenders offices come to the point of bankruptcy and collapse; overburdened defenders get spread out among too many clients, innocent people going to jail because their defender was taxed to the limit, and the modern notion of the right to due process could be put in jeopardy if we continue along this path.

    I don’t know what constitutional implications a fiscal impossibility of providing free counsel to all would entail, but it is clear that the mentality that issues forth from declaring something to be a positive right is that the government has to provide it. And that’s the short-sightedness of which I speak, since it ends up actually depriving people in some cases of their rights. Same with broken down national healthcare systems.

    These are, in other words, economic questions. They are technical problems that cannot be resolved with decrees.

  • WJ says:

    Just a small quibble here, Joe. A couple times now you’ve written something like this: “But as RC points out, you may have a right to steal bread in order to live, but you don’t have a right to have bread continually supplied to you if you can support yourself through labor.”

    It’s technically incorrect to describe a man who takes bread from another in this situation as “stealing” or “thieving” the bread. His particular condition, combined with the universal destination of property, entail that in such situations there is no stealing at all. (Aquinas’ and Leo’s position is not that in some instances stealing is morally legitimated; it is that in some cases the taking of another’s property isn’t stealing at all.)

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    WJ,

    It is a quibble. I get your point, but what are we supposed to call the act? “Appropriation by means other than labor?” Distinctions need to be made because of the different circumstances. And it helps if we can sum them up in one word. There is labor, and there is…. what? Taking?

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    If access to health care is indeed an inalienable human right, then our first priority ought to be doing what we can to get health care to the people MOST in need of it — that is, the Third World peoples who die from treatable conditions and diseases. There are, of course, many people already working on this via medical missions, etc.

    One thing people who are in a position to help (i.e. medical R&D people, physicians themselves, pharma companies, etc.) absolutely cannot do is turn our backs on people like the children dying of cholera in Haiti on the grounds that it’s not our problem, or on the Rushian grounds that we “already gave” to help these people through our taxes. Nor should we, needless to say, be stocking Third World clinics with condoms when they could really use antibiotics, vaccines, and reasonably up to date medical and surgical equipment.

    What I hear the pope saying is that the right of the least of our brothers and sisters not to die or be disabled for life due to easily preventable diseases is a universal, i.e., Catholic, concern. With those needs in mind, I’d say fixing the imperfect but still basically functional healthcare system in the U.S. and Europe might be a bit lower on the priority scale.

  • Mark Noonan says:

    It is regrettable that the Pope used the term “right” in relation to a person’s ability to obtain health care. Health care cannot be a basic human right because it requires the actions of at least one other person – the rights we have from God are individual, not collective. We all have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone in our society has adequate health care, housing and food – but moral obligations are strictly voluntary. Everyone is perfectly free to be a rat bastard about such things – though, of course, there will come a time when the real Judge will ask for an accounting. I ascribe the use of such terminology as “right” in relation to health care to the Pope’s European background, where such things as government health care are so entirely embedded in society that only deep and long thought on the matter by an European would allow a different conclusion.

    The truth is that the more government provides, the more anti-life government becomes – because the ultimate business of government is not human needs, but power and wealth. If our governments could be staffed entirely by saints, we would have a different circumstance and could safely turn over all decisions to them – but as we simply won’t get that, our only safety in the long run – the only way to have a society of life rather than a Culture of Death – is to strictly limit government’s roll in our lives.

    Now, that being said, there is quite a lot government can do to help ensure that people have basic health care, housing and food – but the best means of doing this is to simply use a surplus in one area to help a dearth in others, and to allow local groups – especially those attached to the Church and other religious bodies – to distribute what is needed to those who are in need (what this boils down to is that wealthy areas like New York would provide things for poor areas like Detroit…but rather than having a person in New York decide what to do, it would be people in Detroit making the call).

    People need help, but government must be limited – if we fail to help or allow government to get too large, we have failed in our moral duty. Striking a balance is what is necessary, and that is what I read in the Pope’s statement.

  • Maryland Bill,

    In particular I object to your characterization of the Health Care debate in this country as being about “an insurance policy which absolutely guarantees that no matter what ails him, he will never have to pay more than he can comfortably afford out of pocket for state-of-the-art care”. I don’t know your personal history, but based on this statement, I can only conclude that you have never faced a major medical bill. Even something as basic as the birth of a child can cost $10,000 or more — even if there are no complications. Even with insurance (Which normally will pay 80% after the deductible… which would be applied both to mother and child), the bill can easily hit $3000.

    As it happens, I’ve paid for the birth of five children over the last seven years — the first two via insurance (with one of those dreaded HMOs, Kaiser, the cost out of pocket was $500 total) and other three out of pocket via a midwife because our insurance didn’t cover midwifery. We’re not rich, so this was certainly a financial difficulty. But given that food, shelter and medical care are the three major expenses necessary to keep body and soul together in this world, I don’t think it’s necessarily inappropriate that paying for health care be similar in cost to paying for life’s other necessities. I certainly agree as to the necessity of insurance to cover truly catastrophic expenses, such as the experiences our family has had with cancer, in which insurance came very much in handy. But at the same time I think that an excessive reliance on insurance for normal expenses (and I’d consider a normal birth to be a normal expense) is one of the things which has allowed the cost of health care to become so absurd.

    Most of the world would find it almost impossible to imagine getting the level of care that Americans get from a normal HMO — I don’t think we should be shocked at the idea of having to give up some of our wealth (again, rather staggering from a global point of view) in return. There are certainly advantages in certain cases to a system such as that of the UK — but there are also very clear reasons why it is that one’s life expectancy with heart disease or cancer under their system is lower than one’s life expectancy under the US system, individual examples not withstanding.

    So while I certainly think that there are things which could be done better in the US system, I don’t think that we have something so obscenely impossible or expensive that we’re entitled to get worked up about our “rights” being denied.

    Joe,

    How on Earth can you declare a universal, inalienable right to a scarce resource! If it is scarce then not everyone can have it and anyone who does have it can lose it; if it isn’t scarce than no one needs to have a right to it.

    Well, primarily because I don’t think that by calling something an inalienable right the pope means that it must be provided “free” to everyone or that it magically shows up on its own. (That would indeed be pretty silly.) The Pope also talks about a right to food and water and shelter at times — but no one imagines that these are provided without work or without pay, and in all but the most backward and desperately poor countries, they are not generally distributed by the government. They’re produced and paid for by most people on their own, and provided by society to the few who are not able to get their own or receive help from more immediate institutions such as family, church, clan, etc. I would assume the his discussion of health care is in the same area.

    MJ,

    Maybe I’m off, but it seems to me that talking about “inalienable rights” is at best an attempt to translate Church moral teaching into the terms of secular modern discussion (of a European variety, in this case) so I guess I’m unclear what it would mean to say that the Church teaches infallibly that something is or is not a basic human right. It seems more like this is a case of the pope saying something which has been understood by Catholics for a very long time in a new and less clear fashion in an attempt to fit it in with the terminology which modern people normally use.

  • Perhaps this would help clarify thing: It seems to me that one of the basic moral issues at play in the Terri Shaivo case was the refusal of her husband to provide her with the food and water to which she had a basic human right.

    This doesn’t mean that everyone has a right to unlimited free food, but the human person cannot live without food and water, and thus it is (in that use of the term) a basic right. That she was denied this right was clearly wrong (and resulted in her death.)

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Darwin,

    “Well, primarily because I don’t think that by calling something an inalienable right the pope means that it must be provided “free” to everyone or that it magically shows up on its own. ”

    If it doesn’t mean that, then no one has ever disagreed with this sentiment, from the most radical anarcho-libertarians to the most statist-socialists. I don’t even see why it needs to be said. “Inalienable” means you can’t give it away or have it taken from you; you cannot “alienate” it.

    But if its something you have to make a legitimate exchange for – if it isn’t free, like the right to counsel (“if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you”) – then it IS alienable. You can buy it and you can sell it.

    It’s just like saying you have a right to what you can afford, what you can make a legitimate exchange for. That means I have as much a right to health care as I do a new video game or anything else that isn’t blatantly immoral or harmful to the common good (like hard drugs or child porn). No one can rightfully deny me access to Best Buy, and absolutely no one is arguing that people who have the means to afford health care could or should ever be denied it.

    You see, what commies and social democrats mean when they say everyone has a right “access” to health care is that it has to be made available to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. What libertarians mean is that society should look for ways to lower costs so that more people can afford it, and it usually involves getting rid of regulation and bureaucracy. This is an economic problem and a technical problem. Everyone wants everyone to have access to health care. But everyone disagrees on how to provide it. So this statement – the way you’ve presented it in your last comment – is meaningless.

  • T. Shaw says:

    “Did you think that money was Heaven sent?”

    I am abjectly uninformed and rapidly approaching senility (Thank God!).

    It appears . . . We all have repented of our sins; gone to Confession; done penance; amended our lives; and through GOOD WORKS glorify Almighty God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior (True God and True Man) in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor for ever and ever. We are all daily praying the Rosary and contemplatng/meditating on the Mysteries of our Redemption . . .

    I am probably wrong.

    Anyhow, Bastiat, “The state is that fictional thing wherein everyone lives off of everyone else.” Or, something like that.

  • MJAndrew says:

    It is regrettable that the Pope used the term “right” in relation to a person’s ability to obtain health care. Health care cannot be a basic human right because it requires the actions of at least one other person – the rights we have from God are individual, not collective.

    This is not quite right. While a right is, indeed, something held by an individual, a right entails obligations for others (on this point, Joe and I are in full agreement, though he uses the term “corollary” for that relation while I use “entailment”). Aquinas’ discussion of rights is embedded in his Treatise on Prudence and Justice. Justice, he says, is a virtue that always involves interpersonal relationships. Rights, which are a key aspect of justice, therefore always involve interpersonal relationships. To use your words, a right, indeed, “requires the actions of at least one other person.” It makes no sense to speak of rights or justice without also speaking of the actions required by others to protect, respect, or fulfill that right.

  • Phillip says:

    “It makes no sense to speak of rights or justice without also speaking of the actions required by others to protect, respect, or fulfill that right.”

    I might add to that, “…to the extent possible in a fallen world without violating other rights.”

    That I think would fully encompass CST.

  • Joe,

    If it doesn’t mean that, then no one has ever disagreed with this sentiment, from the most radical anarcho-libertarians to the most statist-socialists. I don’t even see why it needs to be said. “Inalienable” means you can’t give it away or have it taken from you; you cannot “alienate” it.

    But if its something you have to make a legitimate exchange for – if it isn’t free, like the right to counsel (“if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you”) – then it IS alienable. You can buy it and you can sell it.

    It’s just like saying you have a right to what you can afford, what you can make a legitimate exchange for. That means I have as much a right to health care as I do a new video game or anything else that isn’t blatantly immoral or harmful to the common good (like hard drugs or child porn).

    Honestly, I’m not sure what’s meant by inalienable in this case — among other things I’d be curious to know what words the pope actually used, as I imagine he didn’t write in English. But in your response here it seems to me that there must be some middle ground between a something being always and everywhere free, and something being a good which is sought via exchange which it’s not anyone else’s concern whether you have or not.

    Let’s start with food, and posit that there is something or other called a right to food. It seems to me that this does mean that if I live in a community and I have plenty of food and fungible resources, and there are also people in the community who, for whatever reason, are unable to get sufficient food to stay alive and basically healthy, this becomes my problem. This is because nourishment and water and basic human necessities to which people have a “right” in some sense.

    Now, at the same time, I don’t think that admitting this means in any way that no one should ever have to pay for food or drink. Indeed, I think clearly people should pay for food and drink pretty much all of the time — in all circumstances except those in which it’s virtually impossible for them to provide for themselves. And what is provided to them by others does not necessarily have to be top notch — it may be the duty of society to make sure that those who lack get a basic amount of bread and meat and dairy and drinking water — but that doesn’t mean they owe them filet mignon or artisan breads or imported wines or even soda. Things which are luxuries beyond the level of necessity are things one clearly needs to get for oneself. Nor, I think, is there any necessity that some sort of social dole give everyone “basic food” when most people are much happier getting their own better food with their own earnings.

    Now, on the other hand, if someone comes to me and says, “There are some poor people in your community who don’t have the money to buy Tour Of Duty 5 at Best Buy,” I may or may not decide that this is something that I want to personally help out with, but it’s clearly not something to which anyone has a “right” in this sense. If someone comes by saying he wants to set up a government program to provide everyone with video games, I’m well within my moral rights to tell him to sod off.

    Now, I think the thing that becomes problematic when you figure out what to do in this regard with health care is that in this day and age it is possible to do so much in regards to health care if one is willing to spend nearly unlimited amounts of money. It seems to me that there are good and realistic ways to see that everyone in society has access to the sort of basic medical treatments which make our life expectancy so much higher today than it was 100 years ago without breaking the budget in any way — while leaving most people responsible for paying for most or all of their care. Just as we don’t feel that we need to have everyone get food stamps, I don’t see that we need to have everyone in some sort of government health care system. And I think that the attempts to put everyone into one are mostly a cynical power play cloaked in progressive language — a program which everyone relies on gives you a lot more power than one that only helps the truly needy.

    But at the same time, no one (including the Church) seems to have managed to come up with a very clear idea of what we do in a situation in which there are almost always additional medical treatments available which have at least some small chance of making a condition better — but the cost is so high that it is clearly impossible to provide such a level of care to everyone.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    If it isn’t clear, then the Church shouldn’t be making such pronouncements. It doesn’t help to say that everyone “has a right to access health care”, because the word “access” can mean different things.

    Does it mean no one can deny you access? If so, then I agree, and so does virtually everyone else. There are some people who would deny even emergency care to illegal immigrants, but that’s a radical position. Everyone has a right to “access” that which they need to live.

    The question is how one “accesses” this thing. Do they have to make an exchange for it, or do they have it provided for them? Well I think we agree that people who can pay, should. And if we can bring down costs, more people will then have access. But that’s unacceptable to social democrats, who don’t trust the market, and who conflate the absence of the technical means to provide everyone with a thing with the absence of a WILL to do it.

    Supply and demand works; command economies don’t. But no system can provide everything that everyone needs to live; that is why the right to these things is an individual right that follows from a law that all individuals (and not societies) are bound to obey – the law of self-preservation. Our right to property is nothing more than a corollary of our obligation to live.

    If given the chance, technology + markets will deliver to people who demand them the goods and services that they need. Get rid of the rent-seeking conglomerates, modify patent laws so that some company can’t buy a patent on cheap medicines and never use it or allow anyone else to, get rid of any protections or subsidies that hinder the flow of medical goods and services, let people who have the ability and the will to mass-produce them deliver them to those who have need of them. That’s how you will have the most people have the most access, and that’s what we want.

    But if it means they have to have these things provided for them, free of charge, then this is totally destructive to the common good. National healthcare was a luxury of Europe’s post-war arrangement with the US. We rebuilt their shattered society with the Marshall Plan, we shouldered the vast majority of their defense needs, and they had extra resources to play around with. That deal is over. Add to that the fact that their collapsed birth rates mean that fewer and fewer people put into the system than take from it. The fiscal burdens of these programs are unsustainable in the long run.

    Statism doesn’t work. And that’s part of what makes it immoral. If it did work would still be immoral if it violated man’s natural rights. But it doesn’t work, partially because it does violate his rights. It attempts to do by sheer force what is better done by initiative and mutual cooperation. It is artificial, invasive, reactionary, narrowly focused and economically calamitous.

  • Gabriel Austin says:

    A couple of hard sayings which should be put into the discussion:
    Our Lord: “The poor will always be with you”.
    St. Paul: “Who does not work will not eat”.

    It has always seemed to me that discussions about charity fail to realize that charity is a personal virtue. No amount of government aid will replace the virtuousness of charity, which is to say, our obligation.

    There is a reason why Death Panels were included [and will always be included] in such as the latest legislation. It is a question of money. What limits are to be imposed on the expenses of treatment?

  • Mark Noonan says:

    MJ,

    Which is why I put it as “regrettable” rather than “wrong”. In moral terms, if I came across you starving in the snow, you would have a right to expect that I, as a moral person, would pull you out of it and give you at least sufficient to prevent death. But you have no right to compel me to do so – even God doesn’t take that office; its purely voluntary.

    Far too many things are classed as rights in our modern society, and very mistakenly. Our entire world view is deformed by a series of lies which have been presented with such force and persistence that hardly any one is willing to challenge the underlying lies. In order for us to come to correct conclusions, the underlying data must be correct – to speak of a fundamental right to health care plays too well in to the hands of those who wish to compel us to do things which are going to be counter-productive.

    Remember, right now the Church is battling those who would use the health care law to compel Catholic hospitals to provide abortion and birth control. If health care is a right, then abortion is a right – so goes the thinking of the Culture of Death. Great care needs to be taken that we on the side of life provide no hand hold for the Culture of Death.

  • MJAndrew says:

    A couple of hard sayings which should be put into the discussion:
    Our Lord: “The poor will always be with you”.
    St. Paul: “Who does not work will not eat”.

    Context, context, context.

    Christ said this to Judas (John 12), who objected to costly perfumed oil being used on Jesus just before the Last Supper. Judas objected that the oil could be sold and the money given to the poor. Jesus, knowing that Judas did not care for the poor, told him that the poor will always be there for ministry, but that Jesus would not always be with them. The insinuation is that even if oil had not been used on Jesus, Judas would never care about giving money to the poor. The context of this line is Jesus’ preparation for his death. It surely has nothing to do with saying that there must be poor
    among us or that there will always be poor people.

    St. Paul (2 Thess 3) is admonishing the Christians at Thessaloniki to avoid being busy bodies and involving themselves in others affairs. The ones who “refuse to work” are the ones who are acting disorderly, involving themselves in the affairs of others rather than being willing to”work quietly and to eat their own food.” Paul tells the Thessalonians to “shun” these individuals and not to keep table with them (recall that St. Paul is insistent throughout his letters that Christians should not share table with those who mock the faith or live immoral lives). For Paul, a Jewish Christian, sharing meals was an intimate affair reserved for family. In the context of faith, that would be the brethern in Christ. What Paul certainly is not making is a statement about labor, wages, and food supplies.

    It has always seemed to me that discussions about charity fail to realize that charity is a personal virtue. No amount of government aid will replace the virtuousness of charity, which is to say, our obligation.

    Bear in mind that Aquinas, whose treatment of justice was adopted by the Church, treats Charity and Justice separately. The latter treatment involves the basic rights of individuals and the moral obligations that fulfill/respect those rights. On Aquinas’ and the Church’s view, fulfilling/respecting the basic rights of individuals is a matter of justice primarily, and society is charged with solving those co-ordination problems that violate these rights. As Christians, we are called to go above beyond this minimum, which would be by why of charity.

    There is a reason why Death Panels were included [and will always be included] in such as the latest legislation. It is a question of money. What limits are to be imposed on the expenses of treatment?

    If a “Death Panel” is that panel of persons who determines whether or not to allocate monetary resources for medical treatment, then “Death Panels” are not a problem with “the latest legislation.” On your view, my health insurance carrier has got its own “Death Panel” that decides how much and to whom monetary resources will be distributed. The “who pays” question is tricky one that plaques private and public health care systems.

  • MJAndrew says:

    But you have no right to compel me to do so – even God doesn’t take that office; its purely voluntary.

    If by “compel” you mean “force,” then you’re right: God probably won’t causally force you to perform your duty. But neither would a government that legally obligates you to discharge your duty. One thing is probably certain: God and/or the government will punish you for not discharging your duty. So really, your point here is irrelevant when it comes to determining what rights individuals have and which moral obligations are entailed by those rights.

    Far too many things are classed as rights in our modern society, and very mistakenly.

    Agreed. But what criteria are we to use to determine what are rights and what are not rights? I think the Church, who is the leading authority on moral questions, provides good criteria.

    In order for us to come to correct conclusions, the underlying data must be correct – to speak of a fundamental right to health care plays too well in to the hands of those who wish to compel us to do things which are going to be counter-productive.

    But this certainly would not mean that such a right does not exist. This is a lot like Joe’s point on scarcity; scarcity of means and possible misinterpretations are irrelevant as to whether or not there is a right to something. Rights, since they are part of our nature and necessarily flow from the value of our nature, are prior to any contingent events in the world, such as scarcity of means or government coercion.

    If health care is a right, then abortion is a right – so goes the thinking of the Culture of Death. Great care needs to be taken that we on the side of life provide no hand hold for the Culture of Death.

    Agreed. Yet, part of taking “great care” is speaking the truth about human nature and value. Downplaying or disavowing an inalienable right would not be proclaiming the truth about human dignity.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    MJ,

    “Rights, since they are part of our nature and necessarily flow from the value of our nature, are prior to any contingent events in the world, such as scarcity of means or government coercion.”

    Let’s just cut the crap.

    If “right to access” means obligation to make affordable to all, then we are obliged to consider scarcity; it has a direct bearing on whether or not any number of people can actually access that to which they have a right.

    If “right to access” means obligation to provide for all regardless of cost, then we’ve entered la-la land and are insisting upon the impossible.

    It costs governments and societies NOTHING to recognize natural rights, and a little more to protect them, and that is why scarcity doesn’t apply to them. My right to property isn’t contingent upon the availability of property, but it doesn’t oblige the government to provide me with it. In Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII says that it would be good if governments would find ways to encourage more widespread property ownership. But nowhere does he say that the right to property entails a societal or governmental obligation to provide everyone with property. It only means that you have a claim to what is RIGHTFULLY yours – that which you earn by your labor, or in extreme cases, you take from another without their consent.

    The same with healthcare. If an “inalienable right” to healthcare does not oblige governments to provide it – as it would appear to do if it is also a “positive right” – then I agree, there is an inalienable right to health care that could just as well be subsumed under the right to private property. There would be no need to single out health care as a specific right.

    And if we find that people are without it in large numbers, and we want to rectify that situation – which is clearly what the pope wants, and what we all want – then it is the naming of it or unnaming of it as a right that is irrelevant, while its scarcity is of the utmost relevance.

  • M.J. Andrew says:

    If “right to access” means obligation to make affordable to all, then we are obliged to consider scarcity; it has a direct bearing on whether or not any number of people can actually access that to which they have a right.

    I don’t think the “obligation” is specified as “make affordable to all.” Rather, access to health care could be instantiated in many different ways. You are correct that one particular instantiation (e.g., affordable health care) would then take into account scarcity. But it is not true that scarcity need to be considered when discussing the right itself, whose corresponding obligations might have several instantiations, some of which would not involve scarcity.

  • M.J. Andrew says:

    Ok. Let me just ask: which “instantiations” would not involve scarcity?

    Like when we consider the putative right to private property, we admit that there is scarcity of all material goods and, consequently, the arts that make use of those material goods (e.g., manufacturing, medicine), insofar as matter is finite and limited. But I think you and I agree that this necessary scarcity is not what you are focusing on, since it would provide the same dilemma for a putative right to private property (and, note well, I am not thinking of a right to any specific thing, like that piece of baguette or that Toyota Corolla).

    The putative right to private property is a general, unspecified right whose fulfillment can come by why of prohibition of acts that violate it (when it is considered as a negative/passive right) or by way of some positive act (when it is considered as an active right). The putative right needs some content, which is to say that the individual does not exercise this general right until the individual takes into possession some material thing (let’s leave aside for now things like “intellectual property”). That material thing would be an instantiation of private property. Whatever that material things is, say, a blue Honda VTX1800, is a specification of that instantiation. The act by which you acquired the VTX, say, by purchasing it, would be a particular instantiation of a positive action whereby you exercise your right. The regime of private property and the market in the United States would be specific instantiations of fulfilling/protecting your right to private property in general, and the possession of your VTX specifically.

    You do not have a right to a blue Honda VTX1800. You have a putative right to private property, and the possession of the VTX would be an instantiation of that. The regime of private property in the U.S. would be an instantiation of an act of protecting/fulfilling your right. VTX1800 is a scarce good–there just aren’t enough produced to go around to everyone who wants them. Further, our regime of private property operates by and large on money and credit, and these are themselves scarce and limited. So, again, there is no individual right to a Honda VTX1800, but there is, on your view, an individual right to private property in a general, non-specific sense. Now, the regime of private property in the US is one many different imaginable instantiations of measures to protect/fulfill your right to private property, and this regime is a contingent, historical arrangement. Further, that Honda VTX1800 is a contingent, historical product. Neither it nor the US regime of private property are necessary, whereas your putative right to private property, like every historical human being’s putative right to private property, is, you would grant, a necessary aspect of being human. The scarcity of Honda VTX1800s or any specified thing has no bearing on your general right to private property, just as whether there is a coordinated market system for exchange like the one in the U.S. has no bearing on your general right to private property. Your right is prior to specific things and regimes that protect it. We can imagine other instantiations of the exercise of your putative right, the way it is protected/fulfilled, and the system in which these actions take place.

    Now move to health care. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we agree that there is an individual right to access to adequate health care. So you have an individual right to health care, and that right is a general right. You have no more right to a specified treatment, such as a CAT scan, than you do to a specified thing like a Honda VTX1800. Like the right to private property, you do not have a right to any specific medical product or treatment. The exercise of your right to health care, like in the case of the putative right to private property, takes place historically within contingent arrangements, techniques, and products. Now, the fact that health care in, say, the U.S. today, is market-based, privatized, and rendered by way of money or credit is purely contingent. Health care in the U.S. (like in the U.S. regime of private property) is embedded in a purely contingent system, and within that system money and credit are scarce and limited. Moreover, the specific advanced technologies that are used are themselves scare and limited. But who says that health care can only be instantiated in such ways? We can imagine arrangements for health care that do not look like this, and we can find real, historical arrangements that did not look like this. The scarcity that you and I are talking about is not built-in to a general notion of health care. Surely we can think of alternative means of health care that do not utilize the same arrangements, treatments, and tools as, say, Westernized health systems do, and we can imagine exchange systems that are not arranged in the same way as that in which U.S. health care is embedded. Adequate health care ranges in its instantiations from, say alternative medicine to the business model of health care. If you want me to say that CAT scan machines and hospitals are scarce, then you got it. They’re scarce. But what has this contingent fact to do with a right to access to adequate health care that is general and necessarily flows from the right to life?

    By “health care” we should not focus on any one historical instantiation of a health care system and how access to it is given. By “adequate” we should not think that this means entitlement to every single state-of-the-art treatment, technique, and rehabilitation there is.

    Now, going back to instantiations, if the current health care system in the U.S. is so arranged that it has created scarcity of services, instruments, etc., then it is, indeed, a special challenge for it to meet the right to access to adequate health care. But the scarcity issues is a problem of that specific instantiation of health care, not a problem for the right that is prior to any concrete arrangement.

    A bigger, related question is: Where do we find the notion of right, be it in Aquinas, Locke, or any major rights thinker, involving scarcity? In other words, do any of these thinkers say anything implicitly or explicitly about scarcity of means of fulfillment being a defeasor of rights claims?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    MJ,

    “The scarcity of Honda VTX1800s or any specified thing has no bearing on your general right to private property”

    Right. That’s exactly what I said in the last post:

    “My right to property isn’t contingent upon the availability of property, but it doesn’t oblige the government to provide me with it.”

    All the right to private property entails is that I have a right to that which I produce by my labor, and to things produced by the labor of others by legitimate exchange under normal circumstances, and “theft” under extreme circumstances, and that the government has an obligation to protect my property and to not prosecute me when I break the civil law against theft in order to fulfill my natural obligation to live.

    No one can produce health care solely by their own labor. They either have to exchange for it, receive it as a free gift, or steal it (or have someone steal it for them). Which of these a person has a right to do depends entirely upon their circumstances. A person who isn’t dying and who isn’t living below subsistence level has no right to petition the government to steal from others to provide them with it, or accept what amounts to stolen property.

    All I want to know is, and all I care about is, what this “right to access health care” obligates or does not obligate government to do, whether it obligates it to plunder from the rich to give to the poor, or whether it obligates it to stop catering to special interests and allow the market to work. The right has to have some implication for the actions of government, which is charged with the protection of natural rights.

    But to say health care is a POSITIVE right creates in the minds of many a government obligation to provide it to everyone, in the same way everyone has a right to a lawyer (and that doesn’t work either). It means someone’s gotta give it.

    This doesn’t work because healthcare is a scarce resource, and because it is wrong to so grossly violate property rights. Scarcity matters IF it is a government obligation to provide health care for everyone, if that is what this right entails. And it matters still regardless of whether we are talking about CAT scans or tongue depressors – they all have costs, they are not infinite. It matters whether the scheme is a “Western” one or a Chinese one, since no treatments are going to be made without scarce resources unless they involve nothing but prayer. Acupuncture needles have costs as surely as MRI’s, and even they can’t be distributed without cost.

    The bottom line is this: Government obligation to provide + scarcity = bloated budgets, deficits, more borrowing, more inflation, fiscal instability, rationed care, decline in quality, and so on. To maintain a universal, inalienable, positive “right” to health care in such an environment, under such a mandate, is to invite social calamity.

    But if we agree that the inalienable right to health care doesn’t mean that the government is obliged to provide it, then I suppose we have no disagreement.

    But if it doesn’t mean that, then I don’t even see why it needs to be declared a right. It can be subsumed under general property rights. Where there is a demand, people will use their property rights to produce a supply and earn a profit.

    Think about it this way: the natural right to property doesn’t mean that the government has an obligation to provide everyone with property (if it did then we would have to consider its scarcity – and none of the great thinkers considered scarcity because they didn’t understand the right to property as entailing a government obligation to provide it), but it DOES mean that the government has an obligation under the social contract to PROTECT it.

    Now if health care is a natural, inalienable right, that would mean that governments are obliged to protect it too. How would they do this? What would this look like, assuming that protection does not = providing? Nothing more than protecting your right to make a legitimate exchange of the product of your labor for health care goods and services, or to receive emergency care if you are in danger of death regardless of your ability to pay. And no one contests this or denies it, or at least few do (and those that do aren’t going to be writing policy any time soon). It protects this right in the same way and for the same reason it protects your right to any other good or service.

    So what purpose does isolating and singling-out health care serve? If we want to prioritize health care because it is a right and people don’t have it, a government mandate isn’t going to deliver, even though people assume that this is what the right entails. If the goal is to get as many people health care as possible, then we don’t need to declare it a right, we just need to make its production and distribution more efficient.

    And it seems to me that is the goal of these declarations – to impress upon people the urgency of the problem, which wasn’t even considered in the past. All of the sudden this inalienable right to this specific thing springs up?

    You bring up the example of the medieval doctor – everyone had a right to access his limited time and resources. Ok. Well everyone has a right to access any doctor today. So nothing’s changed there. But that medieval doctor was supported by his lord. Today’s doctors aren’t. They sink or swim on their own, unless the government is paying for them. But unless we want medical care to sink back down to medieval standards, we’d better figure out a way to get off that.

    The real problem is that we now live in a society in which some people have adequate and more than adequate health care, while others go without. But rather than seeing the glass as half-full and encouraging the process by which it came to be so, social democrats see it as half-empty and want to arrest that process, which they think can’t fill the glass. That’s what it comes down to.

    And now we come to this:

    “Neither it nor the US regime of private property are necessary”

    That’s what you said. And I accept that, only because I don’t even think that the US has an acceptable “regime of private property” entirely in accord with our natural rights. It’s just not as grossly in violation of them, yet, as the EU or Canada is.

    But the pope, I realize, is speaking to a world audience. And in some places “right to” means “right to have someone give it to me for nothing”, whereas in other places it means “right to acquire it through my labor.” I’ve spent a lot of time around socialists, and a lot of time around libertarians. I know what those words mean to them.

    So what are we talking about?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Let me go at it from yet another perspective.

    There is a natural right that places an obligation on others to provide something for someone else: children have a natural right to the property of their parents. Parents have an obligation to provide for their children. They don’t just protect their child’s right to provide for themselves as the government does for adults; the have to actually provide FOR them.

    So unless the government is to become our mother and our father – which is the goal of all commies and pinkos – then this obligation can’t exist under natural law.

  • Zach says:

    Why would you need to define a right to health care if all it means is that no one can stop you from accessing it?

    Are some people denied adequate health care by something other than a lack of resources and money?

  • Elaine Krewer says:

    “Are some people denied adequate health care by something other than a lack of resources and money?”

    Well, aren’t residents of some Third World countries denied health care (as well as food, water, shelter, and a means to make a living) by the action or inaction of their corrupt and oppressive governments?

  • Foxfier says:

    Why would you need to define a right to health care if all it means is that no one can stop you from accessing it?

    Wait, there are places doing that– I seem to remember some fairly high profile ones where children deemed terminal wouldn’t be released into their family’s custody, but they wouldn’t be treated, either.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there were policies in place to forbid even basic treatment of some folks, since we are in the same world where the Church had to point out that “offer water to drink” isn’t medical treatment.

  • Rich says:

    The reason why medical expenditures are through the roof is because of federal mandates to begin with. Get the government out of our medical care is essential to a free market system. That and the 10th Amendment never gave government the authority to regulate in such matters.

    Want costs to go down? Get rid of unconstitutional government intervention.

  • Phillip says:

    Though limited resources may play a role in providing a right and thus limiting what can be done. From the Pope:

    “Because an individual’s health is a “precious asset” to society as well as to himself, governments and other agencies should seek to protect it by “dedicating the equipment, resources and energy so that the greatest number of people can have access.”

    Note the Pope does not say that “all people” have access but rather the “greatest number.” This is quite consistent with CST and not just because the Pope said it here. This is clearly an aspect of CST. CST is not a utopian project where “inalienable right” necessarily translates into “must be provided.” CST takes into account human, economic and political realities including limits in human knowledge, redistributive efforts and resources. CST accepts that provision of rights will not necessarily be universal even if the right applies to all.

  • Phillip says:

    I think there are several take home messages. First, that there are numerous principles of CST. Understanding those principles in their totality is difficult and at times not clearly defined even by the Church. That doesn’t mean we don’t seek to apply them but that Catholics may disagree on their application.

    Principles like subsidiarity and solidarity are cornerstones of CST. They are supplemented by principles such as the right to private property and the preferential option for the poor. Neither of the latter two are absolute in that property and the preferential option for the poor must be in accord with the common good. If these goods threaten the good of others then there can be reasonable limits placed. (Thus another reason why rights in the Church, which do not appear to generally be absolute but for the most part limited by one factor or another, do not necessarily have to be met in all circumstances.)

    Part of CST is that govt. does have a role in regulating these issues but that these matters, as a matter of solidarity and not just subsidiarity, may be met by more primary institutions such as family, local bodies etc. That the teachings of the Church are not themselves a “third way” in the world but rather are the principles to guide the laity in forming the world is itself a core principle of CST. As such, Catholics may disagree on the particular policies and still be good Catholics.

    All this, even if Locke is inconsistent with CST. :)

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