There are three fundamental human rights: 1) the right to do anything that does not coercively harm others; 2) the right to be free from coercive harm; 3) the right to an equal share of the benefits of natural resources. Since medical care is not a natural resource, and since the lack of medical care is not coercive harm, do we not also have a right to receive medical care?
Medical care is a necessity, but so are food and shelter. If medical care is a human right, are not food and shelter also human rights? If so, then who is obligated to provide for and fulfill these rights? If my neighbor is obligated to give me medication, and I am obligated to give my neighbor medication, would it not be simpler for each of us to provide oneself with medications?
The right to do anything that does not coercively harm others includes the right to engage in labor and to keep one’s earnings. The monetary benefits of natural resources are measured by the amount of rent users are willing to pay to use these resources. Therefore, in a just society, a person would be able to obtain income from labor and from an equal share of resource rents. With no taxes on goods or trade, the question is, would one’s income from labor and rent be sufficient to pay for the necessities of life, namely, food, medical care, and shelter?
Suppose that all persons in a society have an equal wage income and an equal share of the resource rents. Then either everyone has enough income to pay for these necessities or nobody does. But economics tells us that there would be an equilibrium between incomes and spending. So, given the income, the costs of the necessities would be such that this income would be at least equal to meeting these costs.
For example, if incomes would not be enough to pay for a 4-bedroom detached house with a big garden, what would instead be produced would be shelter that families could afford, such as a 3-bedroom house with a small garden. People would not eat gourmet dining, but would instead eat more basic, less-expensive food. No matter what the economic organization and regulation, whether of markets or government controls, no more medical care can be provided than the society can produce, together with other necessities.
The (natural or legal) right to have something means that it is morally wrong for others to deny you that thing. If medical care is a moral right, then others are obligated to provide this medical care, and you are also obligated to help provide that service to others. Everyone is obligated to everyone else. But if everyone can obtain the income to purchase such service, there is no economic need for each of us to help provide it to everyone else, as each family can obtain by using its own income.
There is no natural or inherent right to receive income or goods from others. Forcing a person to give income to others violates his or her right to keep one’s earnings and an equal share of the rent. In this sense, there is no general moral right to receive medical care, as that could be seen as stealing income from others.
This analysis presumes that people have adequate incomes from earnings and rent., But today, we live in unjust economic conditions. Many people have poverty-level incomes or no income at all. There is much income inequality. Given today’s economic and social realities, don’t people have a right to medical care?
We can analyze this assertion by reducing the underlying problem to its root: economic deprivation caused by government policy. Government restrictions and mandates make it difficult and costly to become self-employed. Government taxes and mandates make it costly to hire labor and they also reduce the incomes of workers. Taxes on goods increase the cost of living.
What about the public goods provided by government? These benefits make locations more attractive and more productive, increasing the rent. Tenant-workers get double billed, paying both taxes and higher rent. Landlords get the subsidy of higher rent for public goods paid mostly by workers. Meanwhile, excessive tax credits, deductions, and exemptions allow for some wealthy companies and high-paid executives pay little in taxes. Yes, some of the rich do pay a high amount in taxes, but they get more than their money back as invisible subsidies; that is, as landowners, the higher rent and land value they receive from public goods.
Thus, given the lack of the economic opportunities and wages that workers would otherwise get in an economy with economic justice, medical care can be considered as a compensation for economic deprivation. The economic deprivations of taxes and excessive restrictions are, in the context of our argument, a kind of theft of potential income. Just as a victim of a robbery has a moral right to get his stolen money back, so too a victim of economic deprivation has a moral right to compensation. Medical services, like food and shelter aid as well, amount to a compensation for such deprivation.
Government funded medical services have been called “Medicare for all.” Today’s Medicare in the USA amounts to a payment by the Government for services mostly provided by private enterprise. Most doctors and hospitals are privately owned and operated. Some advocate socialized medicine, which means that medical services would be owned by the Government, and medical personnel would work for the Government, like those employed by the Veterans Administration. Today’s medical care system is indeed more costly than that provide by most countries, and needs much reforming. But this is an issue separate from the issue of whether people have a right to receive medical care.
There is no general human right to medical care; or, at least, not one that is universally acknowledged. There is, however, a moral right to compensation for theft. Therefore, in our unjust economy, the poor, suffering from deprivation, have a moral right to the compensation that will provide in full for their basic needs, including medical care. When that day comes, when we have universal prosperity that derives from economic justice for all, then the right to earnings and resource rent will enable society to equitably provide medical care and services for all its members.