Saturday, August 22, 2009

Health Care as a Moral Obligation

by Smitty

Cassandra raises the Moral Obligation question with respect to health care. She's linking Dave Schuler. Schuler's framing, emphasis mine:
Is is possible to make a coherent argument that government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation but that our obligation doesn't extend to people in Zambia? I don’t think it is but I’m willing to listen to the arguments.
One aspect of the question is one of scope. If you picture authority as forming a hierarchy, in the US we have Federal, State, and Local government. You can also argue individuals 'govern' themselves.

Another aspect of the question boils down to authority/responsibility. Governments have you trained to play along with taxation, asserting legal action, or, ultimately violence if you resist too heavily.

What is the scope of a moral imperative? Does it extend beyond the individual, or voluntary associations, i.e. a community of faith? This would depend on the definition. I'd argue that moral imperatives (e.g. stay sober) are subjective ones, voluntarily acceded.

Ethical imperatives (e.g. don't kill me) would seem the low common denominator that we comfortably apply universally, as objectively as possible. They tend to have legal backing.

So, is there a law stating that we owe medical care to Zambia? No. Should there be? If there was going to be, I'd need a thorough argument showing me how the scope of the obligations up the chain of sovereignty command supports the notion.

Ponder the psychology of the assertion (based upon Schuler's)
Government-provided healthcare is a moral obligation, and our obligation extends to people in Zambia.
You've explicitly argued a unified world government at that point. That's problematic. Also, the 'moral obligation' is a tough nut. You can't morally obligate me except through my faith, which the US Federal Government is explicitly precluded from establishing in the First Amendment. Then you'd have to have a single world religion to cast that 'moral obligation' everywhere. We can't even maintain a single language spoken globally. A religion? *snort*

The question is transcendental, and anyone on the left who raises it probably needs a boot to the head:

Commenter K raises an excellent "why isn't it theft?" question. Here is the intellectual laundry process:
  1. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
  2. If I can't have it, you can't have it. Your possessions are 'unfair'.
  3. You have, therefore you stole.
  4. Since you're both unfair and a thief, we can liberate property from you via government proxy and feel good about it.


  1. Why is it that the moral obligation to do X, is never balanced against teh moral obligation not to steal the sweat of the brow from your taxpaying brothers and sisters? If the moral obligation to do X is urgent amoungst those who support government health care, why aren't they contributing more money in charity towards that end than their brothers and sisters who are on the other side of the argument?

  2. When I think you couldn't impress me more, you reference "Boot to the Head"...May your Tai Kwan Leap always expose the Ed Grubermans of the world.

  3. I don't get it. Have I a moral obligation to provide health care to myself and my family? Maybe. I certainly have a G-d given right to do so if I chose.

    I clearly don't have a moral obligation to take someone else's money to do it, nor does anyone have a G-d given right to parasitically steal from me to obtain it.

    As to the notion of "From each according to his means, to each according to his needs"... It is the most eloquent definition of slavery I have ever read.

  4. One world government/one world religion/one god world is what "One Payer Health Care" (a/k/a Life Control) is all about, where it intends to go with s/he in charge, the "partner with God in matters of life and death," world-wide. If here, then everywhere and Americans support it everywhere

    Reparations, penance for being evil, mean, sweat it out of them.

    Cassandra and Schuler have glimpsed where this is meant to go, at least the broad strokes of it if not the hate/revenge motive inside it.

    BTW-I, God has no partners in matters of life and death. He is self-sufficient in this as in all other matters. And He does not subcontract.

    BTW-II, St. Benedict's remedy for reverie was not a boot but a rock to the head, specifically of a novice who rose and left the community's prayers without leave, walking dreamily towards the fields as if ensnared by an enchantment of melodious fervor.

    The great ones never listen to the song they sing. If they do, they leave body and stop singing.

    Evil ones attend their own effects and subvert themselves by that attention.

  5. @Ran,
    I fully agree with you. "Intellectual laundry" == "brainwash". I was too clever.

  6. Smitty:

    Two points:

    1. Schuler (and I, for that matter) weren't examining whether there might be a legal obligation to provide health care to those who don't have it. Right now there isn't even a universally (in America) legal obligation for me to provide health insurance to members of my own family, let alone other Americans.

    Moral obligations and legal ones are two distinct things.

    What he was asking, and I happen to think it's a good question, is: once you accept the bizarre idea that (a) some collective "we" - say it's Americans - have a moral duty to provide anything to those among us who, for whatever reason, don't have it and (b) that if we don't agree, the government can force us to hand over anything we own in order to erase the inequality between us and those who are less fortunate, where do we draw the line?

    IOW, if we accept that unfairness itself is evil, and furthermore that anyone who possesses the ability has a moral duty to address that unfairness, what makes the inequality between us and Zambia any less "evil" than the unfairness between me and Joe Sixpack, who doesn't have health care? Amusing side note here: compared to that guy in Zambia, the poorest American is rich. Does that make our poor "evil" and "selfish" too?

    From what does this moral duty to provide health insurance arise? From the simple fact that Joe is American? What relationship do I have to Joe? I don't know him any better than some guy in Zaire who also doesn't have health care. Since we're talking moral and not legal duties, what the Constitution says is irrelevant to the discussion. The Constitution places limits on the ability of the federal government to tell individuals and state governments what to do. It doesn't address moral obligations like not cheating on your wife :p

    I think one could argue that if I saw a man beating a toddler to death in the street, I would have a moral obligation to try and stop him. But that moral obligation does not create a legal duty where none existed before.

    What Obama keeps doing is painting in these broad, sweeping strokes that sound so pretty that they cause people to forget about vital distinctions. He wants people to say, "Ooooh! Of course! He's leading us to a better world!" and we're all supposed to just fall blindly in line with whatever blissfully detail-free platitude drops down like manna from the heavens this week.

    Once we've erased all the inequality here on planet America, the Holy Obama Crusade will have to go looking for new injustices to rectify with tax dollars confiscated from the evil, Chinese toy loving minions of the richest 1%. We'll need to heal the oceans.

    Oh, and there's FDR's Second Bill of Rights. Now that I think of it, every American deserves:

    - a job with a "living wage"
    - a home
    - an education
    - freedom from competition and monopolies
    - recreation
    - a Wii (OK, I made that one up)

    The man's hubris is stunning.

  7. "I'd argue that moral imperatives (e.g. stay sober) are subjective ones, voluntarily acceded."

    Spoken like a true objectivist, Smitty. This is where I part company with Ayn Rand. Moral truths are either absolute and discernable by the mind of man, or they are not. If you argue that they are simply a matter of choice, your arguments for conservative principles of individual liberty and property rights are on the same relativistic foundations as liberals arguments for socialism and collectivism. When you agree to fight liberals on their ground, who wins the argument comes down who has the greater will to power. History suggests the socialists - nationalist or internationalist - do quite well when the battle is on thier ground.