All Commentary
Tuesday, April 1, 1969

Medical Care Is Not a Right

This article is reprinted by permission from the January-February ¹969 issue of G. P. Press, published by the Texas Academy of General Practice. Dr. Johnson practices in San Antonio.

Rights are what stout-hearted men supposedly fight for. This muddled definition is probably as good as most people’s understand­ing of this blood-soaked concept. Rights is a word which provokes emotion. Label something a right, play a martial tune, and the le­gions will march to your cause. If your opponents accept your sloppy definitions, victory is yours. Stout­hearted men might do well to iden­tify those rights they adore.

The concept of rights has de­veloped over several centuries. It is a complex body of thought about the nature of man. These ideas have had consequences; they en­abled man to emerge from barbar­ism. The concept, quite properly, has acquired an emotional value. Unfortunately, to most people, the concept is hazy, distorted by those who wish to cash in on its emo­tional power.

Rights, as defined by Burke and Locke, as incorporated in the Dec­laration of Independence, the Fed­eralist Papers, and the writings of others, are the conditions neces­sary for man’s survival according to his nature, as he was designed by God or nature. Man, in order to exist among the other flora and fauna of this planet, has certain requirements. First, he must have a drive to live and continuously act to sustain his life. By his natural design, his special means of sur­vival are: conceptual, volitional thinking; hands designed for tools; and differentiation, enab­ling man to specialize his produc­tive energy and to prosper by trading with one another, each party profiting by the exchange. The conditions such social organi­zation requires are: the free range of each man to think, choose, and act; and to own property, to hold secure the products of his mind and hands for him to consume or save or trade. Men must, to live, assert a claim to these conditions: life, liberty, and ownership. These proper claims are rights. Actions against this system, the molesta­tion of another man’s life, liberty, and property, are wrongs.

No one has a right to anything he must ask permission for or in any way take from another. In interpersonal and societal relation­ships there are many goods and services traded and privileges granted, but there is no “right” to take these from another. In dis­tinguishing rights from privileges one may ask, “provided by whom?” If it is provided by God or nature or by one’s own self, it is a right. If it is provided by someone else, it is a voluntary exchange, a priv­ilege—or theft.

No one has a right to food, wa­ter, shelter, money, or love if he must obtain it at the expense of the owner. Medical care is no more a right than these.

Man rightfully obtains goods and services by producing them from nature or by voluntary ex­change with others. Man may ex­change goods, services, and emo­tional values, but he must trade to obtain them. Otherwise he is a thief acting against human ex­istence.

Medical care is a service traded or a privilege granted—or theft.



Abraham Lincoln

I know the American People are much attached to their Govern­ment; I know they would suffer much for its sake; I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come. 

  • Charles Johnson is a writer and philosopher living and working in Auburn, Alabama.