It is very difficult to understand the concept of “Rights.” A human right is a freedom to act in a certain way, as you personally will that act to be done. To be a human right it must be equally accessible to all humans. For this to be so, exercise of a human right must be done in a manner that does not interfere with the ability of any other human being to exercise the same right for himself. My rights and yours end at the tips of our noses and the exercise of those rights must be peaceful … otherwise we will be infringing upon the rights of others. This is what Jesus Christ was talking about when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Thinking about this, it becomes obvious that no human or human institution can grant rights; they are and always were … no human force can take them away, albeit any or all of us can be coerced or constrained from enjoying our rights by some form of tyranny, nonetheless they remain. The “Custodian” is above humankind … Thomas Jefferson intoned where rights come from as eloquently as anyone … “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…” Jefferson was addressing the Declaration of Independence to a wide audience … mainly Christians and Jews, but also all mankind what ever their views on Eternity. The Great Document subsumes that Men, if they are reflective, must come to the conclusion that they exist because of an un-seeable and humanly unknowable “Creator.” The “Creator” whoever or whatever that may be is the custodian of human rights. He or It included the rights of man in His or Its Creation and therefore human rights always were and always will be. It is up to man to avail himself of them … or to lose their use.
To understand what rights are is a struggle that we must undertake and a tribulation that we must win if we are to remain a free society of free men. The essay below by Professor Walter E. Williams of George Mason University is a constructive step on our path to understanding.
Is Health Care a Right?
Most politicians, and probably most Americans, see health care as a right. Thus, whether a person has the means to pay for medical services or not, he is nonetheless entitled to them. Let’s ask ourselves a few questions about this vision.
Say a person, let’s call him Harry, suffers from diabetes and he has no means to pay a laboratory for blood work, a doctor for treatment and a pharmacy for medication. Does Harry have a right to XYZ lab’s and Dr. Jones’ services and a prescription from a pharmacist? And, if those services are not provided without charge, should Harry be able to call for criminal sanctions against those persons for violating his rights to health care?
You say, “Williams, that would come very close to slavery if one person had the right to force someone to serve him without pay.” You’re right. Suppose instead of Harry being able to force a lab, doctor and pharmacy to provide services without pay, Congress uses its taxing power to take a couple of hundred dollars out of the paycheck of some American to give to Harry so that he could pay the lab, doctor and pharmacist. Would there be any difference in principle, namely forcibly using one person to serve the purposes of another? There would be one important strategic difference, that of concealment. Most Americans, I would hope, would be offended by the notion of directly and visibly forcing one person to serve the purposes of another. Congress’ use of the tax system to invisibly accomplish the same end is more palatable to the average American.
True rights, such as those in our Constitution, or those considered to be natural or human rights, exist simultaneously among people. That means exercise of a right by one person does not diminish those held by another. In other words, my rights to speech or travel impose no obligations on another except those of non-interference. If we apply ideas behind rights to health care to my rights to speech or travel, my free speech rights would require government-imposed obligations on others to provide me with an auditorium, television studio or radio station. My right to travel freely would require government-imposed obligations on others to provide me with airfare and hotel accommodations.
For Congress to guarantee a right to health care, or any other good or service, whether a person can afford it or not, it must diminish someone else’s rights, namely their rights to their earnings. The reason is that Congress has no resources of its very own. Moreover, there is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy giving them those resources. The fact that government has no resources of its very own forces one to recognize that in order for government to give one American citizen a dollar, it must first, through intimidation, threats and coercion, confiscate that dollar from some other American. If one person has a right to something he did not earn, of necessity it requires that another person not have a right to something that he did earn.
To argue that people have a right that imposes obligations on another is an absurd concept. A better term for new-fangled rights to health care, decent housing and food is wishes. If we called them wishes, I would be in agreement with most other Americans for I, too, wish that everyone had adequate health care, decent housing and nutritious meals. However, if we called them human wishes, instead of human rights, there would be confusion and cognitive dissonance. The average American would cringe at the thought of government punishing one person because he refused to be pressed into making someone else’s wish come true.
None of my argument is to argue against charity. Reaching into one’s own pockets to assist his fellow man in need is praiseworthy and laudable. Reaching into someone else’s pockets to do so is despicable and deserves condemnation.
Walter E. Williams