Fred Hutchison
Is health care a right?
By Fred Hutchison
September 17, 2009

Prior to the twentieth century, no one called health care a right. The idea seemed to have originated with the Progressive Movement in the early 20th century. Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and — later — Barack Obama picked up the line and started saying that health care is a right. Neither of these presidents seemed to understand the metaphysical implications of what they were saying.

Do rights change?

How can man have a right one century and not have it the prior century? According to natural law, human rights are based on the design of human nature. Man simply must have certain personal, economic, religious, and political rights, or he cannot be what he was designed to be as a man. Full human flourishing is not possible without certain rights. Since the design of man was the same in the 20th century as it was in the 19th century, no new rights can be claimed in the 20th century.

Goods vs. Services

Let us compare medical care to a set of "services," and dresser drawers to "goods." As goods and services, they are both are sold in the market place. They are both sold as though they were property.

The First Amendment says, "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due course of law." This applies to dresser drawers, because there is no doubt that dresser drawers are property. Does the First Amendment apply equally to health care services as it does to dresser drawers?

English philosopher John Locke (1633–1704) cleared up the question when it comes to the right of ownership of material property. Man mingles his skill and labor with available resources and makes the resulting product his property in a way that no man can clam to be unjustly deprived by not owning it. Watching a cabinet maker pour his skills and labor into the making of a cabinet is palpable evidence that the cabinet is his property. We can also confidently conclude that no man but him has a "right" to his property — unless and until he sells it.

What about the physician? His training is far longer than the apprenticeship of a cabinet maker. The financial sacrifices are far greater. The exertions that must be made to become a doctor are probably much greater. The accumulated set of skills of the physician materially exceed that of the cabinet maker. Therefore, we can conclude that the services of the physician are his property to own and to sell on the market. They belong to him, and no person has the "right" to have them — until the physician sells them.

If a thief steals the cabinet, it is a crime. It is also a crime if a man points a gun at a doctor and demands the doctor use his services for the benefit of the gunman. The gunman is stealing the doctor's property — that is to say, he is stealing the services which are the doctor's to sell.

The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate that medical services are the property of doctors, and that no one in the public has a "right" to them. Arguments for a government-funded health program may be many and diverse, but they may not rationally include the claim of a "right" to health care.

Are the progressives irrational?

Progressives are not irrational if rationality means following the premises they have laid down. They do seem unreasonable, however, in their choice of premises. I suppose that unbearableness can be regarded as a kind of irrationality.

Progressives believe that our rights come from the government, and not from God and not from nature. As a result, when government promulgates rights through legislation or by judicial decree, they are prone to create rights which don't make sense in terms of human design. These false rights are prone to tread upon authentic rights, or to empower individuals to act in mischievous ways as they boast of false "rights."

Progressives believe in "positive law," which means that governments can make any law they want, whether or not the laws make sense according to the nature and design of men. In contrast, legislators enlightened by natural law insist that laws make sense in terms of human nature and design.

Some of those progressives who are influenced by philosophers Hegel and Marx actually believe that human nature is changing due to impersonal forces of history, and therefore believe human rights are changing. The blind leap into the dark they make to swallow this myth is perhaps the most irrational part of the story of the progressivism.

Are progressives totalitarians?

Yes. The progressive agenda is for the government to eventually take over everything. That is why progressives like socialized medicine. When government runs everything, the result is a totalitarian government. Totalitarianism has a bad name in history, due to Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union. Progressives may have good intentions and fond hopes for what unlimited government might do — but once one man or a few men get their hands on unlimited arbitrary power, there is no assurance that they will not be corrupted and do evil things like Hitler and Lenin did.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Fred Hutchison

Frederick J. Hutchison attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an undergraduate, and Cleveland State University to get his Master's degree in business... (more)


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