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To Objectivists who claim that healthcare is not a right, if you were a guy on the streets with appendicitis how would you be able to receive healthcare or what would you do about it? Shouldn't everybody chip in to help everyone. After all it makes us stronger as a nation rather than pitting us against other nations. Isn't this what we are all about after all: The greatest nation in the world.

asked Oct 07 '10 at 23:02

Michael's gravatar image


edited Oct 07 '10 at 23:54

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦


Objectivism doesn't imply we shouldn't take care of people - to the contrary - simply that one shouldn't live for another. Charities do exist, and will continue to exist under an Objectivist friendly government of which charitable hospitals may well be part (as they are now).

(Oct 08 '10 at 00:26) Cog Cog's gravatar image

The more interesting question to me is: in a free society, assume a person is in an accident, he's unconscious, and requires emergency treatment. I don't think there's any question he would receive treatment, but the question is, how would that be dealt with financially? It doesn't seem you could bill the guy afterwards since he didn't consent to the fees. On the other hand, aren't you providing a service that you can assume he would consent to were he conscious? Any thoughts?

(Oct 08 '10 at 11:45) Publius ♦ Publius's gravatar image

You can't bill the guy afterwards unless he consents to the fees. He may have done so beforehand, or he may consent to the fees later. Or someone else might have consented to the fees. Or the people doing the treatment might not get paid. Or a charity might pick up the bill, either by consenting beforehand or by making a donation afterward. The person might have health insurance, and the health insurance company might have consented beforehand to the fees. Or maybe the health insurance company can be convinced to consent afterward to the fees. Lots of non-exclusive possibilities.

(Oct 08 '10 at 16:27) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Before the "what would you do" question can be addressed in a meaningful way, we should understand why healthcare is not a right. To advocate that healthcare is a right is to abrogate the true meaning of rights, and to destroy the fundamental principles on which the nation is based.

A right cannot be a claim on the products produced by others. It can only be a right to take actions. One has a right to life i.e. to think, to work and to produce, and to keep the results of such effort. One has a right to liberty, such as the freedom of speech, which requires no claim on anyone else, nor obligates anyone else to provide one with a platform, nor obligates anyone else to agree. One has a right to pursue happiness -- not to be given happiness.

However, none of these rights imply obligations on others. As such, one does not have a right to food, a right to shelter, or a right to health care. These rights imply that some must work to produce the food, shelter, and health care (or to pay for it), that others have a right to, thus violating the rights of some on behalf of others. Whether one steals health care outright by holding a gun to a doctor's head saying "heal me", or whether one holds a gun on one or more people saying "pay that doctor so he can heal me", or whether one asks the government to do one or both on one's behalf is irrelevant -- all of these actions are immoral.

Now all that being said, back to the "what would you do" question. One's options really boil down to asking other's, such as friends, family, hospitals, or others, for charity. In a free, and therefore prosperous, society, there will generally be no shortage of help for those who are genuinely in trouble -- especially for those who are in that situation through no fault of their own. Other answers have explored this aspect of the question further.

I highly recommend reading Ayn Rand's essay "Man's Rights" for a short and very accessible explanation of these concepts. Peikoff's essay "Health Care is Not a Right" is also relevant to your question.

answered Oct 08 '10 at 11:51

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦

edited Oct 14 '10 at 02:31

If I were a homeless guy without money and I had apendicitis, then I would ask for help from friends and family. If my friends could not help me, then I would ask for help from a charity, that's all I could do. However, there is a huge difference between asking for help, and believing that you are entitled to get help. There is a big difference between giving help because you are being nice, and being forced to give help. If health care were a right, then people would be obligated to help me when I have apendicitis. This would mean that I would have the right to put a gun to someone's head and force him to help me, or alternatively, get the government to put a gun to his head and force him to help me. Since health care is not a right, the best that I can hope for is someone helping me out of the goodness of their heart. Fortunately, a free society is a happy, rich, and generous society, so under a capitalist system I would expect that someone would help me if I ever were in the unfortunate situation of being homeless and with apendicitis. In a mixed economy however, all bets are off, and I better save my money for such an occurrence.

answered Oct 08 '10 at 04:00

Francisco's gravatar image

Francisco ♦


If in a free society, someone saved my life, I would want to pay him back. Work off the debt, pay a little each month etc. At the least I'd be willing to pass it on in the future. Currently those who receive don't recognise the enormous debt they owe.

(Oct 08 '10 at 11:39) adamsdad ♦ adamsdad's gravatar image

I agree. In fact, many people think that they are owed life-saving health-care. They aren't. Somebody has to pay for everything good, and that one is unable to pay is not sufficient reason that someone else should.

(Oct 10 '10 at 10:51) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Health-care is not a right, and so this question reduces to: "If you were a homeless guy with appendicitis what would you do?"

I would do my best to avoid becoming homeless in the first place. We must not presume that homeless people qua homeless are there through no fault of their own. Some are, but we must not presume all are.

If I were somehow in the sad situation of needing health care without being able to afford it, I'd do my best to get it anyway. I'd first exhaust all legal strategies: asking family and friends for a hand-out, walking into emergency rooms and begging, etc.

In general, that would probably be enough to get some help, perhaps while going deeper into debt.

But say I'm in so much debt (and so bad at taking care of myself) that no hospital would touch me. That is, say everyone flatly refuses to help me. What should I do, presuming I'm about to die in 30 minutes, and presuming I don't want to die?

It's a personal decision, but at this point, I might start acting criminal. Perhaps I'd grab a weapon and hold a nurse hostage in hopes that I could force someone to help me.

Would I have a right to do so? No. But if the choice is a stark: "commit a crime or die", then to live, one must become a criminal. I'd try to be the most reasonable criminal I could be:

"Look, I don't want to hurt this nurse. I need help, and I'm willing to do everything necessary to pay you for it. Yes, I know you don't believe I'll pay, and you say you have good reasons to let me die. But I believe you don't recognize the upside of helping me live. I don't have time to convince you right now, so I'm threatening this nurse, to expedite things. Now help me, or else."

Becoming a criminal involves a huge risk. I could get apprehended before getting medical help. I could even be shot dead. And even if I were to live, I'd spend quite some time in jail. But I'd be willing to pay for my crime, because the crime would have allowed me to live.

There's an old Spanish proverb that applies here: "Take what you want, and pay for it." If you are in an emergency and you don't have time to ask for something, then just take it, and pay for it later. Don't try to get away with it. Pay for it.

The problem with universal health-care is that it's all about people taking what they want, and not paying for it. To be a common criminal fighting for his life is much more honorable than to be a legislator who legalizes and legitimizes the forcible expropriation of health-care for the sake of unproductive people who don't want to do the dirty work of becoming criminals.

Let us not call this country great because it enables legislators to use pens and gavels to hide guns.

answered Oct 08 '10 at 14:50

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

edited Oct 09 '10 at 00:21

I don't think spending time in jail is equivalent of "paying" for your crime. Paying for your crime would be to work like a crazy mother @# afterward to pay down the bill. :)

(Jan 02 '12 at 21:27) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

The crime I'm referring to, above, is the crime of holding a nurse hostage, at gunpoint. Assault with a deadly weapon is a crime, which, in justice, must be paid for, regardless of any financial considerations.

(Jan 03 '12 at 17:43) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

I assume that you still recognizes that it was morally wrong to force the nurse to help you. I guess an Objectivist can violate his moral code, sometime when the ends justify the means?

(Jan 06 '12 at 02:35) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

No. That's not it. It's that, given a choice, an Objectivist doesn't sacrifice his life.

If you are about to die, you do whatever you can to live another day, assuming you see a chance of making things right.

One cannot just say "committing the crime is morally wrong". Context is always important. In an emergency context, committing a crime is proper, assuming you are willing to accept the consequences. In other words, you should not expect other people to let you commit the crime.

(Jan 06 '12 at 10:53) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

Of value here is Ayn Rand's "The Ethics Of Emergencies" in The Virtue of Selfishness.

(Jan 06 '12 at 12:12) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image

While I do understand that context is important, in this case, it appears that you're leaving the door open for subjectivity. One person's "very challenging context" is another person's "emergency context."

The "willingness to accept the consequences" argument doesn't make any sense to me. Does this willingness make the action morally right? If it does then this is a rationalization. If it doesn't then my charge about "violating the moral code sometimes" remains.

(Jan 06 '12 at 20:13) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Let's simplify the issue. You are starving to death in the woods, and you come upon a locked house. You have plenty of cash in your pocket. Do you break in and take some food, intending to pay for it?

Of course you do, and it would be immoral not to. Do you have a right to take the food? No. But rights are not an issue when you are at death's door. There is no moral imperative to sacrifice your life to a law book. Morality trumps politics.

(Jan 07 '12 at 10:26) John Paquette ♦ John%20Paquette's gravatar image
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Asked: Oct 07 '10 at 23:02

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Last updated: Jan 07 '12 at 10:38