Health care, housing rights?

Stethoscopes hang in the hallway at His Hands Free Clinic on Wednesday, May 10, 2017.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Stethoscopes hang in the hallway at His Hands Free Clinic on Wednesday, May 10, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

There’s been discussion recently about housing (locally) and health care policy (nationally). Unlike government-funded programs used by all, these are for those most in need.

Developing public policy for social programs seems to be, as President Donald Trump famously said, “an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that [it] could be so complicated.”

That’s not precisely accurate. We are blessed with thousands of knowledgeable, caring individuals who do know how complicated it is. They are doing their best, with limited resources, to make all lives better.

Before discussing details of public policy solutions there’s the threshold issue of “rights.” Do you and I have (legally) or feel (morally) obligations to care for those beyond our family or community? To what extent do others have a “right” to expect such care?

Former Congressman, now radio host Joe Walsh unambiguously put in his answer: “Health care is not a right. Housing is not a right. A job is not a right. College is not a right.”

If health care is a product and housing is a privilege; if a majority believe, and act as if, the needy have no “rights” and we have no “obligations,” that pretty much ends the discussion.

Where to find insight?

Religion? Jesus said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” and “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” The Bahai Universal House of Justice cites 16 major religions espousing the Golden Rule.


Founding documents? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Community of nations? “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being including food, clothing, housing and medical care.” UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Virtually all the world’s great religions, and nations, agree we have some obligations to fellow members of our species. And yet, Walsh speaks for many Americans.

That’s somewhere between ironic and inexplicable, given more U.S. citizens say “religion is very important in their lives” than people elsewhere. How can we square denying health care, with caring for “the least of these”? How can six-in-ten Americans “believe allowing everyone to pursue their life’s goals without interference from the state is [most] important [whereas] majorities in all European nations said guaranteeing that nobody is in need is more important.” (Pew Research Center)

Could it be our “representatives” have adopted their major donors’ belief that “my right to even bigger tax cuts trumps (so to speak) your right to come in out of the cold”?

• Nicholas Johnson is a former FCC commissioner and law professor who maintains the blog, Contact:



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