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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).

asked Jan 08 '12 at 14:31

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Jan 10 '12 at 13:33

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

It would be immoral. The law proposed would violate the rights of the hospital's owners by forcing them to extend credit to those who are unable to pay [notice that you used the term "allows" when it comes to seeking payment]. To illustrate, ask yourself what would be the problem with a law forcing banks to issue mortgages to people who don't qualify for one, while telling them that they are "allowed" to seek payment later, so that these people can afford to buy a house. When you realize that it was just that sort of law that recently did so much damage to economies around the world...

(Jan 09 '12 at 20:02) John Pryce ♦ John%20Pryce's gravatar image

But this is an emergency and as other Objectivists on this forum has indicated, emergencies allows you to redefine morality or at least throw it out the door.

(Jan 09 '12 at 21:49) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Your question is about the morality of law, not the morality of action, though.

Your question also deals with the government using force against someone who does not act, rather than not using force against someone who does act.

The analogy to "Is it moral for you to break into the cabin [when...]" would be "Is it moral for you to steal medical supplies [when...]".

The analogy to "Are laws requiring hospitals to perform emergency treatment..." would be "Are laws requiring cabin owners to provide food and shelter..."

(Jan 10 '12 at 06:47) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Is it moral to go insane and shoot an innocent person because you think s/he's an alien?

Should a person who goes insane and shoots an innocent person because s/he thought the person was an alien, be sent to prison?

Are laws requiring people to be shot by insane people moral, amoral, or immoral?

(Jan 10 '12 at 06:57) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Is it moral to damage someone else's property by accident?

Should a person who damages someone else's property by accident be put in prison, required to reimburse the property owner for damages, both, or neither?

Are laws requiring people to allow their property to be damaged, moral, amoral, or immoral?

(Jan 10 '12 at 07:00) anthony anthony's gravatar image

@anthony: I see your point. My new question is here.

(Jan 10 '12 at 10:37) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
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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

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦

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Asked: Jan 08 '12 at 14:31

Seen: 1,181 times

Last updated: Jan 11 '12 at 03:44