It is frequently asserted nowadays that every American has a right to affordable or free health care and that the government must somehow ensure this fundamental right. They justify this view two ways: either they say that the Constitution mandates it-through the "general welfare" clause and a mistaken notion of the fundamental right to life-or they refer to the need exhibited by the thirty million or so uninsured or underinsured people in America. Both these justifications fail to address the issue: the implications and presuppositions that underlie the very concept of rights. Stephen Chapman, a pundit for the Chicago Tribune, seems to understand this concept. In his 1991 column entitled "Do Americans Have a Right to Medical Care?," Chapman implicitly elaborates on the two essentials of the concept of political rights: they are political implementations of the metaphysical requirements of man's nature and survival and that these rights necessitate a form of government that is inherently retributive. However, his argument is not all exemplary, he does throw in a lot of excess baggage that does not further his argument.
Man has certain requirements that are necessitated by his nature. Man has to be able to have an ultimate goal—or value—that he may direct his actions towards, being a teleological being. That ultimate value or goal is his life and survival. 1 Therefore, the right to life ensures that man has the need to pursue an ultimate goal enshrined and protected by law. A corollary of the right to life is the right to liberty. Man—in order to realize this ultimate goal—must have the freedom to actualize his means. In other words, man needs a right to liberty so that he may be able to have the freedom to realize his goal. A right to life without a right to liberty would lead to an inability to realize survival, i.e., widespread death. The right to property arises from the need of man to be able to use and dispose of the fruits of his labors in such a way so as to benefit his survival. The right to property is the most fundamental of all rights because without the right to own a corporeal body, the right to life is meaningless. Men are not ghosts and they have requirements. The Constitution of the United States was designed—implicitly—with these requirements in mind.
What, then, is the role of government in this whole scheme? It serves a retributive role. As Chapman puts it, "the government is obligated not to do certain things to you, not that it is obligated to do anything for you." The government's purpose is, therefore, to promote justice, viz. through protection of the aforementioned individual rights. Chapman illustrates this with an example of freedom of the press. The government must respect your right to publish whatever you want, but it does not mean that it must supply you with a newspaper job or a printing press. If the government sees an infringement of an individual's rights occurring, it must actively attempt to stop and punish the individual or entity doing the infringement. Rights do not mean a right to infringe on another's rights. But that is exactly what the people who support national health care want. They want to forcibly take money from individuals (a violation of the right to property and liberty) and redistribute it so that some may use it for health care. This is what the right to health care entails. The government has become an agent of injustice. The only legitimate provinces of governmental action are the judicial system, the military, and the police. These all serve to protect an individual's inalienable rights.
In his concluding paragraphs, Stephen Chapman, for some unexplainable reason, seeks to undermine his very argument. He asserts that the poor have a right to free housing and medical care because they are poor. In the preceding paragraphs, he had just built a good foundational case for the notion of individual rights and he topples it by saying that some men do have a right to the property of others and that the government can be an agent of injustice when the indigent are concerned. This effectively destroys his whole argument. However, it is a very ubiquitous tactic amongst conservatives. They almost take a totally principled stance on an issue and then they cave into their bed-buddies, the liberals. They do so because they do not fully believe that rights are grounded in man's metaphysical nature. They share the same belief as the liberals do that rights can be based on need rather than nature.
Stephen Chapman has come awfully close to the correct argument against nationalized medicine. However, he is a conservative and he falls into the same trap that all conservatives eventually do: he has-as do the liberals-altruistic premises. These state that other men's needs are more important than one's own-leading to a rejection of the previously mentioned conception of rights. Individual rights are an individual, egoistic phenomena-there can be no rights of a collective qua collective and one's personal needs must take precedence over the needs of others. Stephen Chapman, Hillary Clinton, et al. possess the fatal flaw to any political policy: altruism.
1 For an elaboration and validation of this point, see Harry Binswanger's doctoral dissertation and enlightening book, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. Marina del Rey: ARI Press, 1990. In it, he validates the teleological nature of man using biological means.