opinion

Health care enables other rights

LETTER — Posted April 5, 2010

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For more than 60 years -- since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 -- the U.S. has stood practically alone among developed nations in not providing universal health care for citizens. Our government has been responsible by neglect for the inexcusable deaths, chronic diseases, disabilities and suffering of millions of fellow citizens.

Those who feel unfairly treated by the insurance companies probably understand the predicament of the millions of our countrymen who cannot afford insurance. Fortunate are those for whom the government has provided Medicare and Medicaid insurance over the past 40 years.

It is incomprehensible to the rational mind that the right of insurance companies to make a profit on people's diseases and disabilities continues to be regarded as more important than people's right to health care.

We know that diseases and disabilities may deprive any of us of the realization of the inalienable human rights to life, liberty, dignity and the pursuit of happiness, because education, training, job, income, relationships, self-respect, wealth, etc. all may suffer or possibly be lost, if we lose our health (adequate functionality). Therefore, health care is a prerequisite human right, and health is a basic human need and a primary social good for the individual and society.

Morality and justice require us to regard them as such. Even if we stipulate that all human beings are born with equal dignity and rights, we cannot claim that we are born with equal and intrinsic good health.

An individual's health has to develop and it has to be maintained. Health care means the habilitation and maintenance of the physical and mental potential of each individual from his or her fetal development on, as well as the rehabilitation of adequate functionality when health is compromised by acquired physical or mental illness or disability.

Depriving anyone of health care is a grave injustice to the individual, but it also deprives society of the productive contributions of many of its members.

Many politicians hijack these moral issues and make them into political ones to kick around as if health care did not directly matter to people's lives. The health care legislation that Congress has enacted is an imperfect yet important opportunity to right the wrongs by minimizing the moral plight and the loss of many human lives. Its potential cannot be realized without the professional and moral leadership of physicians.

Antal E. Solyom, MD, PhD, Lynchburg, Va.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2010/04/05/edlt0405.htm.

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