Smack! Whinny!

Forgive me for beating a dead horse, but British physician and writer A.M. Daniels, AKA “Theodore Dalrymple”, has also weighed in on whether there is a “right” to health-care, and on whether healthcare is best provided by the government.

We read:

The question of health care is not one of rights but of how best in practice to organize it. America is certainly not a perfect model in this regard. But neither is Britain, where a universal right to health care has been recognized longest in the Western world.

Not coincidentally, the U.K. is by far the most unpleasant country in which to be ill in the Western world. Even Greeks living in Britain return home for medical treatment if they are physically able to do so.

The government-run health-care system—which in the U.K. is believed to be the necessary institutional corollary to an inalienable right to health care—has pauperized the entire population. This is not to say that in every last case the treatment is bad: A pauper may be well or badly treated, according to the inclination, temperament and abilities of those providing the treatment. But a pauper must accept what he is given.

Universality is closely allied as an ideal, ideologically, to that of equality. But equality is not desirable in itself. To provide everyone with the same bad quality of care would satisfy the demand for equality. (Not coincidentally, British survival rates for cancer and heart disease are much below those of other European countries, where patients need to make at least some payment for their care.)

In any case, the universality of government health care in pursuance of the abstract right to it in Britain has not ensured equality. After 60 years of universal health care, free at the point of usage and funded by taxation, inequalities between the richest and poorest sections of the population have not been reduced. But Britain does have the dirtiest, most broken-down hospitals in Europe.

There is no right to health care—any more than there is a right to chicken Kiev every second Thursday of the month.

As Winston Churchill reminds us: “The primary vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings. The primary virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.”

Read the rest here.


  1. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I am uncharacteristically disappointed in what Daniels/Dalrymple is offering here. He seems to be presenting a very one-sided view of things, and even setting up straw men to vanquish. Not his usual style, to say the least.

    As suggested by my comments on an earlier thread, I would agree that “Universality is closely allied as an ideal, ideologically, to that of equality.” I agree, as well, with his next claim: “…equality is not desirable in itself.” The desirability of equality depends, as any thinking person realizes, on what is being “measured.” Equality of outcomes is probably not desirable “in itself.” Might equality of opportunity be desirable “in itself?” Many serious thinkers have thought so. And of course, any thinking person realizes that even if equality of opportunity is desirable in itself, it’s not an absolute value, and it must compete with other values for resources.

    I think the relevant question is whether a wealthy society should expend the resources necessary to ensure that all its citizens can, if they so desire, avail themselves of a decent minimum standard of healthcare, which could temper some of the inequalities of opportunity resulting from disease and injury. But that doesn’t appear to be the question addressed by Daniels/Dalrymple.

    Posted August 3, 2009 at 8:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Well, that’s right, Bob, and that’s why I gave this post the title I did. What is being addressed here, primarily at least, is the question of whether healthcare is some sort of natural right — a proposition that I know you consider false, as do I. (That was the point of Bill V’s recent post as well; indeed they were so similar that I can’t help wondering whether there was some cross-pollination.)

    What really matters, as you say (and to be fair, “Dalrymple” does devote the second half of his brief item to this point), is to answer the question of what sort of health-care system might be preferable to the one we have now — a question to which different people, with different political philosophies, will answer in different ways. But it is still, sad to say, quite plain that many people are stuck on the notion of an unchallengeable “right” to health care: a position that needs to be seen for the nonsense it is before a productive discussion can take place.

    I promise not to whip this horse again here, though; the case has been made, I think.

    Posted August 3, 2009 at 10:08 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Oh dear – I just noticed that I had inserted the wrong hyperlink for the essay in question. You must have had to go hunting for the article, Bob!

    Fixed now.

    Posted August 3, 2009 at 10:15 pm | Permalink
  4. bob koepp says

    Finding the article was just a couple clicks from the wikipedia page you linked to.

    I do understand what you say about productive discussion being stymied by unthinking invocation of rights. I’m actually trying to push discussion in directions that I hope could be productive… of a deeper appreciation of how health and disease affect the expression of individual liberty. The value of the latter I’ve assumed to be a point of fundamental agreement.

    Posted August 3, 2009 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

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