A U.S. congressman recently commented that medical care was not a right.
That got me to thinking. If rights are conferred only by law, then rights can both be given and taken away.
However, are there rights that we have because we are human beings, and that are not subject to law?
Enshrined in our Declaration of Independence are the words, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
These are described as “unalienable” rights given to human beings by their Creator, and the purpose of government is to secure these rights for the populace.
Does that mean medical care is or is not a right? If it is a right, is it a natural or unalienable right, or a right bestowed by law?
Part of our difficulty in answering these questions is that we are so busy pursuing happiness that we forget that large segments of our population are still looking for life.
My city is small (10,500 people) and there are people here who are homeless, people who are barely getting by on minimum wage, people who cannot afford basic medical care, and people who have to choose between filling a prescription and buying food.
The rest of us are pursuing happiness with a vengeance (and an overdrawn credit card?).
Humans have many needs that are necessary for our survival as a species. Abraham Maslow came up with a gamut of human needs in 1943.
The basic need in the gamut is physiological needs. These are followed by needs for safety, needs for love and belonging, need for esteem, and topped by the need of self-actualization. That last one is our pursuit of happiness.
Physiological needs are the most important needs and they should be met first. Air, water and food are metabolic requirements for survival in all animals, including humans. Clothing and shelter provide necessary protection from the elements.
We cannot meet these physiological needs without medical care.
We take great pains to protect life. Among many things, we have rescue missions, social services, legal aid, free school lunches and clothing drives to preserve lives.
However, on the whole, the U.S. does not provide universal access to low-cost, tax-funded (or tax-subsidized) medical care that can preserve life.
There are isolated avenues to such care, such as Medicaid and Medicare, but they are far and few between.
For the ideals of our Declaration of Independence to be realized, government should provide, or see provided, either affordable or tax-funded medical care for everyone, or both.
As a Christian, I believe it is immoral to discover a life-saving medicine and then price it beyond the ability of people to pay.
I believe it is immoral to provide life-saving medical procedures that only the wealthy can afford.
I believe it is immoral to put profit before people. I believe it is immoral for politicians to pay allegiance to any political philosophy that denies the human needs of those they purport to represent.
I do not believe free enterprise and market forces can provide affordable medical care because medicine is both a monopoly and a cartel. There is no free market in medicine, and really there cannot be.
I believe medical care is a right as defined in the Declaration of Independence.
Where is the prophetic voice of the church defending those who need care? Why are our pulpits silent?
Why are we not demanding that all should have access to affordable medical coverage? When will we have the moral and political will to provide this medical care for “the least of these?”
William Hooper is professor emeritus of music at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, and senior adult pastor at First Baptist Church of Bolivar. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.