Thursday, October 1, 2009

Healthcare As a Possible Constitutional Right

John Conyers is thinking of offering a constitutional amendment declaring basic healthcare to be a right.

This is an interesting development. As I wrote here, I think that healthcare should be considered a right that the government has an obligation to facilitate.

But there are thorny issues. How do we define “basic care?” A reasonable standard might be a procedure that if left unperformed, would cause death. So a bypass surgery for a person with clogged arteries would probably be required, as would chemotherapy for someone with cancer.

Plastic surgery would be out at it doesn’t save a person’s life. What about things like abortion and contraception? You could plausibly make the argument that the ability to control when you get pregnant is an important health issue with major implications for your life. The same would be true of contraceptives like condoms or the pill. Sexually transmitted disease is a serious health problem. Yet I can see the division funding those things would cause.

How much healthcare is a person entitled to? Should government be required to pay for unlimited care? That might bankrupt us. If so, would we have to set a limit for how much a human life is worth? But then at some point, we might be denying a person care which is medically necessary based on cost.

What if government spending were too low to ensure whatever standard of care is deemed necessary? Would the Supreme Court step in and make Congress and the President rearrange the budget by raising taxes or lowering spending on other programs?

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