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.
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.
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
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.