The Moral Obligation to Provide Health Care

Dave Schuler poses an interesting question:

As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that there’s a right to healthcare nor have I seen a coherent argument made that it is, merely a claim. However, bear with me.

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.

A few observations. The most obvious thing that comes to mind here is that if Barack Obama thinks moral obligations are so important that the federal government should impose them by force, does that mean he thinks the federal government should force him to take care of his siblings? After all, that’s arguably a pretty basic moral obligation. It’s pretty unfair that he was raised by white grandparents and given the opportunity to attend an elite private school in Hawaii.

If equality of income and opportunity are the moral imperatives of the 21st Century in America, why didn’t he put his money where his mouth is and extend a helping hand to his own family?

In his defense, Obama is hardly alone in wanting the government to step in and shoulder his moral obligations:

Arthur Brooks, the author of “Who Really Cares,” says that “when you look at the data, it turns out the conservatives give about 30 percent more.” He adds, “And incidentally, conservative-headed families make slightly less money.”

And he says the differences in giving goes beyond money, pointing out that conservatives are 18 percent more likely to donate blood. He says this difference is not about politics, but about the different way conservatives and liberals view government.

“You find that people who believe it’s the government’s job to make incomes more equal, are far less likely to give their money away,” Brooks says. In fact, people who disagree with the statement, “The government has a basic responsibility to take care of the people who can’t take care of themselves,” are 27 percent more likely to give to charity.

But more importantly, precisely what is the moral obligation to provide universal health care?Interestingly, Obama never got around to that part.

He has a habit of making grand, sweeping statements that conveniently manage to avoid the kind of pesky details that might subject his imperial pronouncements to critical review. It would be interesting to hear Obama spell out the precise nature of the moral obligation to provide health care: where does it begin? How far does it extend? If we all share a moral obligation to make sure every American has equal benefits, why should some people pay more for that benefit than others? On what moral basis do we (as Obama has assured us) exclude illegal immigrants from this benefit?

Like Dave, I’m willing to entertain the argument for a shared moral obligation to provide universal health care. I’m just not sure it exists. But if it does, surely the President of the United States ought to be able to make that case, shouldn’t he?

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