Bioethics Blogs

Embodying a right to health care

In a residency applicant’s personal statement, I came across this sentence about a doctor working among impoverished rural people: “His presence embodies their equal right to health care.”

Equal right to health care. When speaking about rights, I always hear that one person’s positive right implies an obligation on somebody else’s part to provide something. For instance, one person’s right to health care implies that somebody else has an obligation to provide that care.

The applicant’s quote turns this idea on its head. Our system and government do not recognize a right to health care. But by his presence, the doctor is a witness that, although these people might not be able to pay for health care, these people are valuable, they deserve health care, and he will provide it. The doctor’s presence embodies what our system and government do not acknowledge.

The presence of health care-ers in the most difficult and impoverished and hopeless corners of our society is the testimony that, since the doctor has the obligation to care for all who are patients, everyone has a right to health care. Since, in this country, the right to health care is not guaranteed by our system or our laws, it must be guaranteed by us (I write as a physician), by individuals and groups of care-ers, doctors and nurses and PAs and NPs and therapists who enact others’ right to health care by caring. Our self-acknowledged obligation to care for the sick wordlessly, but eloquently, proclaims that all those whom we serve have an equal right to health care.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.