Assume that the treatment is required to save the person's life. Assume that the law allows the hospital to attempt to collect from the individual at a later date (meaning the operation is not required to be FREE).
Yes, such laws are immoral.
A law means using force against those who don't comply. The equivalent of a law to require hospitals to provide emergency treatment for those who don't have the ability to pay is for the police to show up and hold a gun at the head of the hospital administrator. "Save this person's life, or I will take your life." It's an obvious contradiction.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that using force means denying the owners of the hospital the right to control their property. We require property to live, so infringing on property rights amount to infringing on our ability to live. Practically, hospitals could go out of business as the result of such laws, people could lose their jobs, and the level of medical care available in a community could decline.
Imagine another scenario where two people enter a hospital at the same time, requiring treatment using the same limited resource (such as a surgeon or special equipment). One can pay, and the other can't. If the law requires treatment for the one who can't pay, what happens to the one who can? Are they to be penalized as a result?
One might argue that government would be acting to protect the rights of the person who is experiencing the emergency. Rights do not extend to control over others. Rights sanction the freedom to make certain actions in a social context. You do not have a right to food; you have a right to seek food. You do not have a right to medical care, even in an emergency; you have a right to seek such care.
One might also argue that the costs of this type of emergency care can simply be either taken from the hospital's profits (also known as "stealing") or distributed among other patients and/or their insurance companies. In the latter case, as costs go up, some people at the margin will no longer be able to pay -- so they end up being penalized, possibly to the point of losing their lives, to help others.
As another consequence, if no one has to pay for emergency care when it's needed, then why have insurance at all? The next logical step is government control over the medical system, followed by rationing. Effectively, instead of rationing by price, you end up with rationing based on the whims of bureaucrats.
I should add that in any laissez-faire capitalist society, charitable funding for most emergencies like this should be reasonably available; it's possible to address the principle issue without the use of force.
answered Jan 11 '12 at 03:44