Saturday, February 12, 2011

Health Care is a Human Right—And Must be Preserved By Deborah T. Bucknam 9.12.09

Author's note: Last night,  I went to an open house at the St. Johnsbury Coop where they featured free samples of Vermont Mead wine and Vermont Chocolate, along with some beautiful singing by someone whose name I unfortunately did not learn.  They also had the "Health Care is a Human Right" from the Vermont Workers Center there trying to have us sign their petition.  I told the HCIAHR person that I was "180 degrees opposed."  She laughed, and said "I know, but I thought I would try."  It appears my reputation had preceded me.  I thought I would post this  Sept 2009, article, to explain why I am "180 degrees opposed" to their position on health care.  

On August 23rd,  I attended a Sen. Bernie Sanders  town hall meeting at Peacham Congregational Church.  I arrived early, but not early enough.   Already there were Bernie Sander’s supporters with red pre-printed T-shirts, signs,  and paid staff from the Vermont Workers’ Center.   The pre-printed shirts and signs declared “Health Care is a Human Right”.  The Vermont Workers’ Center has been campaigning for government controlled universal health care with the slogan “Health Care is a Human Right” for the last several years. Bernie Sanders is an enthusiastic supporter.

I asked one sign carrier where in the Constitution was the right to health care.  She thought a moment, and replied:   “ The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The sign carrier’s answer was wrong. The rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are rights affirmed in our Declaration of Independence, not specifically delineated in our Constitution.

Despite the sign carrier’s mistake, the slogan is correct: according to the U.S. Supreme Court, health care is a human right, guaranteed by our Constitution, even though the  rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not specifically found in that document.  The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly held that those rights are a part of the fundamental rights we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution.  The most famous of those Supreme Court decisions affirming these non-enumerated rights is Roe v. Wade.  In that case, the Court outlined the history of its decisions regarding rights not enumerated in the Constitution, including the right to privacy.  The Supreme Court concluded that the right to privacy is a “fundamental right” guaranteed by the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment to our Constitution, and cannot be abridged by the government without a showing of a “compelling state interest”.

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade determined that Texas law outlawing abortions violated a woman’s constitutional right to privacy— the right to make her own decision concerning the medical procedure of abortion. 

While there are those who disagree with the Roe v. Wade decision because they believe that our fundamental rights should be extended to the unborn, and thus a woman’s rights must be weighed against those of her unborn child, few disagree that we have certain fundamental human rights, and that the right to make our own decisions about the most intimate aspects of our lives and the lives of our families is part of those fundamental human rights we enjoy.  Decisions we make about our own health,  as the Roe v. Wade court recognized, are as intimate and private as any we make.  Therefore,  the government must not be involved in our  private health care decisions, absent a “compelling state interest”. 

The Vermont Workers’ Center’s meaning of human rights is diametrically opposed to the authentic meaning of human rights under our Constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.   To the Vermont Workers’ Center members, their slogan means that health care is a benefit that government must bestow on its citizens.  That is the opposite of what human rights means in the U.S. Constitution.  Fundamental human rights are, as the Declaration of Independence proclaims, “endowed by our Creator”, not by our government.  Moreover, our Declaration affirms those rights are “inalienable”: in other words, they cannot ever be taken away from us by any person or government. 

Because Americans understand that the God-given right for each of us to control our own health care is a part of the fundamental rights that cannot be taken from us by any entity, no matter how powerful, many Americans recoil at the proposals for government controlled health care.  Americans instinctively appreciate that this type of government benefit is inexorably linked with government control, and government control of such intimate and personal decisions violates one of our most sacred and fundamental rights.

 The sign carrier at the Peacham Congregational Church was also mistaken about her slogan when she said “Health Care is a Human Right” was a slogan referring to American rights and privileges. The Vermont Workers’ Center refers on its website, not to our Declaration of Independence or Constitution,  but to Article 25 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the basis for its “Health care is a human right” campaign.  The reliance by the supporters of universal government controlled health care on the United Nations Declaration is misplaced. While many of the human rights outlined in the U.N. Declaration are similar to those in our Constitution, there are others that would violate our U.S. constitutional rights if fully implemented.  Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration is one such section.    Article 25 states in part:  “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”
The proponents of universal government controlled health care read too much into Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration.  If Article 25 decrees that government is required to provide each of us with food, clothing, housing and health care, and not just a safety net for those most vulnerable, then the foundation of our constitutional democracy would be shattered.   If government provides for everyone’s basic needs, then government controls the distribution of those needs, and can ration those basic needs as it sees fit.  No longer is our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness God-given and inalienable, but government-given and uncertain.  Our Founders pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to fight against such a government, for they understood that government control of the necessities of life was ultimately tyrannical, no matter how benign its stated purposes.
Health care is a human right, a right to be free of government control over our most intimate cares and concerns.  Government controlled universal health care, advocated by the Vermont Workers’ Center and Bernie Sanders, would violate that basic human right.

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