The Moral Argument for Publicly-Provided Healthcare Insurance

There’s quite a bit of buzz today about a subject I’ve touched on before here, the argument that healthcare is a right (or as the current argument is phrasing it “a moral obligation”).

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that there’s a right to healthcare nor have I seen a coherent argument made that it is, merely a claim. However, bear with me.

Is is possible to make a coherent argument that government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation but that our obligation doesn’t extend to people in Zambia? I don’t think it is but I’m willing to listen to the arguments.

17 comments… add one
  • Drew

    You’ve hit on a hot button topic of mine for 30 years now. I’ve found myself “trapping” people in this same argument. “So its moral imperitive to provide for your fellow man as long as they are residents of Illinois or Connectucut…….or the USA……….but not if they live in Africa?”

    It lays waste to the notion that there are not practical realities.

    And it usually shuts people up.

    Things are always more complicated than the do-gooders think.

  • “Is is possible to make a coherent argument that government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation but that our obligation doesn’t extend to people in Zambia?”

    Sure it is. The statement itself is self limiting. From a western liberal perspective, there is no governmental body that represents both the people of the Untied States AND the people of Zambia. Political authority rests only upon people living in specific geographic areas. The arena of legitimate moral authority cannot exceed the arena of legitimate political authority if political authority is to have any coherent meaning. (i.e. the moral authority of, for example, the UK is not consulted when law making in Alabama. The moral voice consulted, if any, rests solely with this country.)

    Within the context of our political system, morals are not absolutes. Our political system treats them as “values” that play out in a pluralistic fashion, interacting with competing moral codes and ethical systems. Individuals may choose to think of the moral code they follow as being absolute and universal, but our political system is under no such obligation.

  • Nice try Rich, but it relies on arbitrary assumptions.

  • Drew

    Rich –

    I look forward to your contributions to all of humanity such that your annual after tax wage is reduced to $1.00.

  • sam

    Well, let me repeat an argument I made over at OTB. (Steve doesn’t like it, but what do you think?)

    “Is is possible to make a coherent argument that government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation but that our obligation doesn’t extend to people in Zambia?”

    I think you could. It would go something like this. If I am under an obligation to do X (a duty to do X), then I am under an obligation to do the optimum amount of X that I can (‘ought’ implies ‘can’). I’m further under an obligation to not engage in a course of action that would prevent me doing the optimum amount of X that I can. If government-provided health care is a moral obligation, then the government is obligated to provide the optimum amount it can. However, if attempting to extend that health care to Zambians would result in the government not being able to provide the optimum it can, the government is not obligated to extend health care to the Zambians.

  • sam

    I don’t assert, btw, that government-provided health care is a right. The argument’s hypothetical–If….

  • sam

    Nebbermine. I just figured out Steve’s objections, and they’re spot on. (Interesting how a glass of good wine can bring things into focus.)

  • jimbino

    Hell, Healthcare is a right that doesn’t even extend to Amerikans vacationing or living in Zambia. Medicare, which they’ve paid into all their lives, is not available to Amerikan retirees in Zambia or anywhere else in the world outside the USSA.

  • Can you offer a moral argument that supports the notion that because we are only able to help 1 person and not 10 that we should avoid helping the one?

    Morality is a matter of choice. Some people imagine it flows from the bible (or holy book of their choice) but of course first comes the choice to accept said book. There’s no escaping the reality of choice.

    We choose how to define right or wrong. And choose wether to abide by that decision.

    We can quite easily decide that health care is a moral obligation, and that said obligation extends first to our own countrymen, and choose whether to hold that it should extend to one degree or another beyond our own countrymen.

  • Steve says: “Nice try Rich, but it relies on arbitrary assumptions.”

    Such as? We are a constitutional liberal democracy? Oh wait, we actually are.

    If you have a theory proving that a specific moral code comes before political authority I’d like to hear it. Granted, there are some mullahs in the Middle East who believe that, but I dont really find it in Locke or Jefferson (or Rawls, if you want to go that way.)

    And Drew: I think you misunderstand my point. I’m just pointing out that a coherent argument CAN be made. I’m not saying any specific one would be desirable. For example, one could make a COHERENT moral argument mandating health care as a benefit for a single county only via fascist “morality”. Coherency is not a very high bar.

  • Brett

    Is is possible to make a coherent argument that government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation but that our obligation doesn’t extend to people in Zambia? I don’t think it is but I’m willing to listen to the arguments.

    Do you think of security (as in defense from foreign forces and domestic threats ala armies and police) and property rights as “moral obligations”? The way I see it, a democratic state (at least theoretically) exists as a contract between the population it governs and the state itself, and in exchange for support, the state is obligated to provide “security” for the population it serves. That “security” includes defense from threats to bodily harm, but can also involve protecting the economic and health “security’ of the population by taking active policies to encourage the welfare of all its citizens.

    It’s an obligation of the state, based on the utilitarian idea that the state policies should exist to promote the greatest welfare of the greatest number within its boundaries.

  • sam

    I think I could save my argument, by recasting this premise:

    “If government-provided health care is a moral obligation, then the government is obligated to provide the optimum amount it can. ”

    as

    “If government-provided health care is a moral obligation a government has to its citizens…”

    which is what I had in my mind when I first offered the argument up. I’d have to argue, though, that that premised is correct…but, in cyberspace, fresh megabytes are always onflowing…On to the next issue!

  • Drew

    Rich –

    I’m simply a pragmatist. Then your argument is an academic triviality.

  • Hmm…well I’m an actual pragmatist…you know, like I study Charles Sanders Peirce and William James…and I’m an academic who teaches political philosophy and American political thought for living…so there is a good reason why I think the way I do. If politicians (and a lot of the public) weren’t so pig ignorant about such matters, we might be better off as a nation.

    But, hey, ignorance is easier.

    I’ll go back to my “trivialities” now.

  • smitty

    No. Counter-argument here. Summary: not bowing to unified world government.

  • There is a story about this today in The American Thinker:

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2009/10/the_moral_case_for_health_care.html

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