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WELLBEING: Healthcare | November 11, 1989



An Unpublished Letter to the Editor of National Forum,

The Journal of The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi

(of which I am still a member in good standing)

In his illuminating article "Bioethics Discovers the Bill of Rights", Robert M. Veatch writes: "The President's Commission has affirmed a right to 'equitable access to...and adequate level of [health] care without excessive burdens.' I do not believe that is found in the Bill of Rights." Perhaps it is.

Amendment Five in the Bill of Rights states in part: "No person...[shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law..." Consequently, in my opinion, no person can constitutionally be denied access to adequate levels of whatever is necessary for life or well-being, unless -- after having been convicted in a court of law -- one is being punished (and even then, the Eighth Amendment commands that the state shall not inflict on the guilty party "cruel and unusual punishments", as would be epitomized by the withholding of any necessary medical treatments).

I realize that this interpretation of the Fifth Amendment can open a Pandora's Box of other claims upon the state for equal access to adequate levels of such other necessities of life as food, shelter, clothing, and education. However, for those of us between the age of first becoming "brain alive" (at about 26 to 28 weeks after conception) and the age of being irreversibly "brain dead", the right to life has no meaning without the means to sustain it.

Many might agree with such sentiment in theory but object to it on purely pragmatic grounds: Can our nation afford to be so humanitarian? I ask, however, can any nation not afford to be? The "bottom line" is that a nation's greatest natural resources are its human resources -- if we allow our fellow citizens to become sick, impoverished, and ignorant we will become as economically bankrupt as a society as we will be morally bankrupt as individuals.

Note:  By 2003, public debate was stimulated along these lines with coverage, as on 60 Minutes, of felons in prison -- in the custody of the government -- receiving better healthcare, at taxpayer expense, than many law-abiding taxpayers, increasing numbers of whom are without health insurance.

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