Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Rights vs Privileges

Stephen at Fearless philosophy for Free Minds has run a series of posts recently on the rights of children as he sees them. I'm not going to address his individual points as his comments section has already seen to that. What I'm going to talk about is the apparent confusion these days about the difference, if any, between rights and privileges.

Usually the easiest way to tell if words are fundamentally different is to just look up the definitions. A privilege is defined as "a special advantage, immunity, or benefit enjoyed by a certain class, caste, or individual." The definition for a right is listed as "something due to a person or governmental body by law, tradition, or nature." Even though I may quibble about the wording of the definitions these still appear, to me, to be very straightforward in their differences. To make it clearer though, I'm going to see if which definition we can apply to one of the more contentious of issues when it comes to this argument: healthcare.

In order for healthcare to be a right, it would have to be due to a person thru law, tradition or nature. Well, the first is easy. There is no law that grants a person the right to healthcare. Medicaid and Medicare just pay for it they don't grant any rights. There is no tradition in our civilization that says healthcare is a right for any of us so that's out. How about nature? Well, an argument could be made that healthcare and modern medicine are actually against nature. If you get sick, it's a natural process and by taking antibiotic to get well you are not working with your natural immune system so there is no way healthcare can be labeled a right due to nature. Breaking the definition down, healthcare fails to be a right on all counts.

But is it a privilege as some people, including sometimes myself, have labeled it? It's definitely an advantage or benefit but is it only available to a certain class, caste, or individual? With the various government programs out there it's availability is not restricted to any particular class or individual
within this country. Because the quality of healthcare available to Americans is not a pattern for the rest of the world then a case can be made for it being a privilege.

I've gotten to the point where I feel there needs to be an addendum to it being listed as simply a privilege though. It goes a step beyond getting rock-star parking when you make partner at the firm. Healthcare involves the delivering of a service in return for compensation. With that extra bit thrown in it becomes a commercial privilege. If you have the means with which to compensate the provider for their services then you can utilize this privilege. This is a privilege that requires the recipient to enter into an agreement with someone in order to receive the benefits the privilege entails.

This argument over healthcare being a right or a privilege comes back to that idea of personal responsibility. With the erosion over the past few decades of the idea that a person is accountable for themselves and their actions it's a logical progression to the idea that healthcare would been seen as a right. If there is no personal responsibility then there is no need for a patient to pay for the services they've received and healthcare becomes something due to the citizen instead of something they just have access to.

This started off as a contrast between the ideas of rights and privileges but ended up more of a rant on many people's notions on healthcare and whether or not it's something due to people. As you can see above healthcare is a commercial privilege so that the only time that you are due healthcare is when you have compensated the provider for it. So even with the mild tangent this still works as a solid example of the difference between rights and privileges. Hopefully we can get rid of some of the confusion surrounding these two concepts because as long as people see privileges as rights we will continue on the slow downward spiral that we've been in for the past few decades.


At 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Well put! This totally cleared up the issue for me!

At 11:47 AM, Blogger Jeff Reddy said...

I read this and kept thinking to myself, what's the point of this whole blog entry, it's complete common sense and shouldn't need to be explained. It's sad that this is not the case for everyone and that people have been led to believe that so many of the privileges they enjoy are rights.

Great article.


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