Does the Hippocratic Oath Make Doctors Our Slaves?

In the beginning, human rights were things we could enjoy by ourself on a desert island.  Speech, assembly, the ability to make decisions for our own life, to keep the product of our own labors -- these are all rights that don't require other people to make them real.  The only role for government is merely to keep other people from trampling on these rights by the use of force.

And then, in the 20th century, we invented new rights -- the "right" to sustenance, to be clothed, to have shelter, to be educated, to have health care.  These were not the passive rights like freedom of speech.  For example, the right to shelter did not mean that we were free to go and build ourselves a shelter and have it protected from attack or burglary by others.  No, it has come to mean that if we don't have shelter, either through hardship or fecklessness, it should be provided for us. 

I hope you can see the difference.  These new rights require action by someone else.  They require that someone, by force if necessary, be made to provide us these things, or at least be made to forfeit wealth which is used to purchase these things for us.   These new rights are not only different from traditional rights like speech and property, but they are 180 degrees opposite.  The old-style rights established that no other person has a call on our mind, our bodies, or our labor.  The new-style rights establish the opposite, that we do have a call on someone else's mind and labor.  In fact, these news-tyle rights are not rights at all, but dressed up slavery.  Because no matter how you try to pretty them up, the fact is that none of them have any meaning unless force can be used to make someone provide the object in question, whether it be health care or education or housing.

Now when we libertarians begin calling things like this slavery, the average American turns off.  Oh, you libertarian guys, always exaggerating.  But Eugene Volokh brings us a great example that proves otherwise.  Libertarian Dr. Paul Hsieh wrote what I thought was a pretty reasonable letter to the Denver Post:

Health care is not a right, and it is not the proper role of
government to provide health care for all citizens. Instead, this
should be left to the free market. It is precisely the attempts of the
governments of countries like Canada (or states like Tennessee) to
attempt to mandate universal coverage which have led to the rationing
and waiting lists for vital medical services. Similar problems are
already starting to develop in the Massachusetts plan as well. Any plan
of government-mandated "universal coverage" is nothing more than
socialized medicine, and would be a disaster for Colorado.

Paul S. Hsieh, M.D., Sedalia

Denver Post columnist Jim Spencer is scandalized by Dr. Hsieh's position:

The craziest letter to the editor that I've read in some time came
from a physician who claimed that Coloradans have no right to health
care.

Seems the guy not only forgot his Hippocratic oath but also the law.

If you're sick enough or badly injured, they have to treat you at the emergency room regardless of your ability to pay.

The doctor aimed his editorial rant against socialized medicine. But
he wrote it because a state blue-ribbon commission is now cobbling
together a plan for medical treatment and prescription drugs for
Coloradans....

First, it is depressing how deeply these new non-rights are embedded even in the freest country in the world -- so much so that the reporter considers it the craziest notion in the world that free health care might not be a human right.  (I have a thought problem for you -- if free health care is a fundamental human right, and a group of us are stranded on an island with no doctor, how do we exercise our right?)

Second, the fact that something is written into the law does not make it a right.  Rights flow from man's nature (or from God, depending on your beliefs) and NOT from the government.  The fact that the government legislates against free speech does not change my right to free speech, it just marks itself as a bad government.  On the other hand, if the government legislates that we all get free plasma TV's, it does not change the fact that man does not have the inherent right to a plasma TV. 

Third, and I think most interesting, is how Mr. Spencer is using Dr Hsieh's Hippocratic oath as a club.  In effect he is saying "you swore an oath and now you are obligated to provide us all with health care at whatever price, including zero, we wish to pay for it."  Mr Spencer demands the right to health care -- and Mr. Hsieh is going to provide it at any price the government demands because his Hippocratic Oath forbids him to do otherwise.  Very unsubtly, Mr. Spencer is treating Dr. Hsieh as his and society's slave, and he is appalled that the slave has talked back to the masters.

Postscript:
  I could not let this other paragraph in the article go. 

"Insurance companies are not in the
business of providing quality, equitable health care," [health care reform advocate] White explained.
"They're in the business of making money. I said, 'OK, let's fix this
once and for all.' This establishes a single- payer system."

I just love the people that treat "making money" and "quality service" as incompatible.  Because its just so easy to make a crappy product and sustain profits over a number of years.  Here is an exercise:  Name 10 private for-profit businesses that make a quality product or service.  Gee, how about Apple, Sony, Toshiba, GE, Home Depot, UPS, Wal-Mart, etc. etc.  You get the idea.  Now name 10 government run agencies that provide a quality service.  Gee there's the post office, uh no, not really.  DMV?  no.  VA hospital?   no.  Amtrak?  no.  OK, name one.

  • http://www.linesinthesand.net Doug Murray

    These new rights you talk about shouldn't be called rights at all but entitlements. Using the word 'rights' for both concepts is intended to confuse the two and has worked admirably, I'm afraid.

    In the words of the Declaration of Independence our rights "are endowed by (our) Creator". I don't remember Him building anyone a house, either.

  • dearieme

    But He did provide manna, didn't he?

  • tribal elder

    He provided manna because He loved His Chosen People, not because He was forced.

  • Bill

    I agree with your post. The idea of a positive right to healthcare, while interesting, should in no way be assumed. I also agree that your use of the word "slave" turns most people off. In a way, its kind of like comparing Bush to Hitler or Stalin. Sure, you can draw some rough similarities, buts its a very impractical and lazy comparison. Even the most adamant National Health care advocates aren't even close to insisting that Doctors be imprisoned and forced to work for no pay while foreman whip them if they start slacking off. So why use that comparison?

  • phil

    The term slave is appropriate. I suppose if you had a job, mr tribal elder, you wouldn't mind your customers getting your product for free? Just because they demand it?
    You probably work for city government somewhere anyway you lunatic. There is no comparison between Bush and Hitler besides they might both have balls. You complain about the concept of slavery, but don't think "sure you can draw some rough similarities" is an idiotic and intellectually vapid comment.
    Let's compare Ted Kennedy to Stalin. Yup, they both killed at least one person. Pretty similar in a rough kind of way, you idiot.