The Health Rights Amendment

To be perceived as fair in our egalitarian society, rights must be the same for everyone. Shouldn’t that apply to medical care as well?

Life is one of the inalienable rights set forth in our Declaration of Independence. But how healthy and how long a life is part of that inalienable right to life? The Constitution and Bill of Rights do not explicitly provide for health rights. Since this is not already covered as an American entitlement, maybe we need a Health Rights Amendment.

If everyone has the right to good health, this becomes a government fiscal responsibility. Our government, however, cannot possibly fund the good health to which everybody in the US may feel they are entitled today.

How should we define good health?  The World Health Organization has defined good health using personal standards. It is not simply freedom from disease. It consists of complete physical, mental, and social well-being as each individual sees it, not as others see it.

Even without a Health Rights Amendment, the current debate about health reform should address these issues. We need to determine when we consider a threat to health as a threat to the inalienable rights we know we have to life.

Is such a threat only applicable to those conditions that require immediate, life-saving intervention like CPR? How many minutes, hours, days, weeks, or years must the person be able to survive without treatment in order for such a health threat to qualify as a threat to life?

We must determine what individuals need and are entitled to under health rights so that those who hold the purse strings can follow these rules. Anything which is simply an individual’s want or preference should be a personal financial responsibility.

These debates will be critical in approaching the challenges posed by the rationing of healthcare in the US.

Norman Makous, M.D.

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