Global Ethics Corner: Why Is Health Care So Difficult?

July 3, 2009

Adequate health care is often seen as a right.

One international covenant asserts the right of everyone to "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health."

Why can't the U.S. negotiate a domestic solution? The principle is clear; the devil is in the details.

Four dimensions are debated extensively: costs, levels of care, policies, and profits. However, the central issue is an ethical one: personal responsibility versus social responsibility. Both are important, but which is primary?

Charges echo of elitist versus populist, of indifference versus socialistic. These debates have long roots in America, over universal free public education, social security, gun ownership, or fluoridation of water.

Health care solutions are not impossible. Taiwan's adamantly free-market democracy with half of America's GDP per capita solved most of the details. Its system provides extensive patient choice, costs fractions of the U.S. system, extends the highest levels of care, emphasizes technology, and covers everyone.

Individuals are certainly responsible for their health. A wealthy society can also be responsible for its members.

What do you think? Is health care a primary right, or a personal responsibility?

By William Vocke

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