As a former cigarette smoker, I have a nightmare. Somewhere down the road I get a diagnosis of lung cancer. The doctor tells me the the cancer is treatable, the prospects for a full recovery are better than 60 percent and the costs of the treatments will be around $250,000.
Now let’s change the scenario. The doctor tells me the cancer is difficult to treat but there is hope. A regimen is available at a cost of $5 million with the chance for recovery under 10 percent. Most people would make the following call: I should get the treatment in the first case, but should prepare to meet the Lord soon in the second case.
But wait, isn’t health care a right? Aren’t I entitled to the best health care available, independent of costs?
What constitutes a “right” is a place where classical liberals (aka libertarians) and progressives dramatically part ways. To classical liberals, rights are God-given or natural and “negative” in form. A right implies one is free to engage in an activity. A right does not guarantee, however, the resources necessary to engage in the activity. My right makes no claim on your property.
An instructive example is religious liberty. I am free to practice my Anglican faith and you are free to be a Wiccan. Religious liberty, however, does not entail — is in fact at odds with — the Wiccan being coerced to pay for my chapel. Neither of us are entitled to a place of worship but both of us can, along with our compatriots, build and support our respective places of worship.
In a similar vein, a patient has the right to obtain any cancer treatment offered but only if he pays for it, has purchased an insurance agreement that pays for it or can persuade others to pay for it.