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A Freedom Daily Classic Reprint: The Right to Health

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The State can protect and promote the interests of its sick, or potentially sick, citizens in one of two ways only: either by coercing physicians, and other medical and paramedical personnel, to serve patients — as State-owned slaves in the last analysis, or be creating economic, moral, and political circumstances favorable to a plentiful supply of competent physicians and effective drugs.

The former solution corresponds to and reflects efforts to solve human problems by recourse to the all-powerful State. The rights promised by such a State — exemplified by the right to treatment — are not opportunities for uncoerced choices by individuals, but rather are powers vested in the State for the subjection of the interests of one group to those of another.

The latter solution corresponds to and reflects efforts to solve human problems by recourse to individual initiative and voluntary association without interference by the State. The rights exacted from such a State-exemplified by the right to life, liberty, and health — are limitations on its own powers and sphere of action and provide the conditions necessary for, but of course do not insure the proper exercise of, free and responsible individual choices.

In these two solutions we recognize the fundamental polarities of the great ideological conflict of our age, perhaps of all ages and of the human condition itself; namely, individualism and capitalism on the one side, collectivism and communism on the other.

There is no other choice.

This is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in the March 1969 issue of The Georgetown Law Journal. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, © 1969, The Georgetown Law Journal and Georgetown University.

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    Dr. Szasz is a noted psychiatrist and the author of "The Myth of Mental Illness", "Our Right to Drugs", and many other works. He is a Professor of Psychiatry at the State University of New York, Syracuse (Heath Science Center).