Life, liberty, and the pursuit of healthcare

What constitutes a just society? Our founding fathers believed in the principles of the enlightenment when conjuring up the basis for our federal government. And no idea was more sacred to the enlightenment or to them than “Natural Rights.” So what are these natural rights that our government and our society at large each have an obligation to protect and uphold? As we no longer live in a series of unconnected and isolated villages but in a nation it therefore falls to our government to be responsible for the lives of the people who live within it. Natural rights protects our freedom of speech, it allows us to own firearms, and it promotes general welfare such as limiting air pollution or making sure lead paint is not sold on children’s toys. American independence was birthed from the idea that we need to protect citizen’s natural rights. So my question is, why should healthcare be disconnected from the principle of life in the phrase “Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness”?

All nations including the U.S. subscribe to the idea that healthcare is a natural right for all citizens. We call it the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We must not allow ourselves to go backward in this obligation because everyone has the natural right to live in safety from medical illness and neglect. Politics must not decide which states care about the healthcare rights of their citizens and which don’t. My state may try to ensure that all citizens have healthcare but that isn’t good enough. Thinking like that leads to the fallacy that we can selfishly ignore the obligation to alleviate the suffering of people in the next state, town, or neighborhood over. The 14th Amendment upholds that all citizens have the right to both life and equal protection. Civil rights and healthcare should both be universal in the exact same way. Government’s purpose is designed to uphold the natural rights of all people and healthcare must become a human right in this country.

Healthcare is therefore not a luxury item. It is not a regular everyday purchase or a service provider like high speed internet access or on demand streaming. Healthcare is bought by everyday Americans out of fear of the consequences of not having it. It cannot be treated the same as an everyday purchase but far too often it is. That fear you have when a loved one is injured or sick and in need of medication, the heartbreak of waiting for the ambulance to come while you stand around helpless till they show up, or the trauma of watching those you care about hooked up to medical monitoring equipment belies the idea that healthcare is a normal thing your bought with your money. Our ability to purchase healthcare must become less like a business commodity and more like a regulated utility, like our right to drink clean unpolluted water. It is something we must have because the fear of not having it is far too awful to even contemplate. Have we as a society forgotten how precious life is?

In Jewish law if someone cannot afford healthcare it is then the community’s responsibility to pay for their care. This was enforced even during the times of the bubonic plague when the danger to the physician was beyond risky. Even then the price for treatment was met and taken care of, by the community. How much more so today when the costs of healthcare are unregulated and potentially out of control. Jewish Ethics demands that the poor must be aided and the sick must be helped. To do otherwise is to deny the sick the right to their own life. Who lives and who dies cannot be based on your financial portfolio. The doctor who sits idly by while a patient dies is disloyal to their Hippocratic oath but how are we as a society allowed to watch the ill pass away by the millions and still consider ourselves righteous?

Healthcare is a natural right. Like all other natural rights it must be made available at everyone at an affordable rate. And provided to them by the state if they cannot afford the cost. Because if we do not make sure citizen’s natural rights are protected then we can no longer claim to live in a just society. However, I do not believe that we must have healthcare provided by the government for all individuals, but I also do not understand the intense fear that comes with such an idea. People living in countries with universal healthcare system like Sweden, Israel, or Canada obviously sleep well at night without believing themselves in constant medical danger. However, a capitalist society can operate a health care system with affordable rates as long as it is regulated. This applies not just to accident victims but also to long term patients who require low cost but lifesaving medications. Car safety is regulated and I don’t hear people calling for the repeal of airbags or seat belts. Why do we put so much emphasis on saving people’s lives while they are still in their cars but once they get in the ambulance all bets are off?

Our government must begin regulating healthcare as if it cared about the lives and well-being of its citizens, which right now it doesn’t. Prices for necessary treatments and medicines must be stabilized and regulated. Mental healthcare must be part of every coverage plan. Hospitals and providers cannot be allowed to overcharge treatments by insane amounts or bill for phantom services only to haggle down with insurance companies. That process costs all of us in both wasted money and in lives. We have an insane broken system that desperately needs to be overhauled and regulated. As for paying for the research into new medicines, our government already subsidizes a large portion of the R&D costs and if necessary it still can cover more. These issues are diverse and complex but we must not accept the status quo. People’s natural rights cannot be betrayed because the necessary changes are difficult to implement. As J.F.K. said, we must do them “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

About the Author
Any description must start with Sidney's love of history, especially military and Jewish history. His background is a masters in history that focused primarily on Middle Eastern history. To that end, he has spent close to 10 years teaching Jewish History, Zionism, and American/World history at the high school level. Sidney considers himself a Zionist at heart and a supporter of women’s leadership and education both in the U.S. and abroad.
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