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Life, liberty, and the pursuit of healthiness?

Does morality require a society like ours to provide adequate health care to its members?

INTRODUCTION:

Healthcare in the U.S. is currently provided through a hodgepodge of mechanisms: Emergency care, charitable clinics, MediCare, private insurers, the Veterans Administration, public vaccination programs, school clinics and more.  Putting aside our country's heated political debate over how or whether to create an efficient universal system for the provision of health care, consider  a more fundamental moral question: Does morality require a society like ours to provide adequate healthcare to its members?  Do children and veterans have a moral claim on society that adults who have not bought private health insurance do not? Should moral claims to healthcare be treated as matters of entitlement or of charity? And if we do have a claim on others to provide us with healthcare, what, if any, are our individual responsibilities for remaining healthy?

 

INSTRUCTOR PREPARATION:

  • Reading of suggested materials below
  • General understanding of the major issues in question:
    • What is meant by a "right to health care"
    • The distinction between legal and moral rights
    • Generally, what sort of responsibilities do we regard ourselves as having for the well-being of other citizens?
    • Do we have a general moral obligation to assist those in need? If so, what are the limits of that obligation?
    • What is the relationship between society's obligations towards the well-being of citizens and citizens' individual responsibilties to look out for their own welfare?

 

LIST OF SUGGESTED MATERIALS TO BE READ BEFORE CLASS:

Most of these are short and intended to give the reader an introduction to the problem.

  • Rights - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

 

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES:

 Watch:

Do: Ask students to think about and discus the following questions:

    • What is a moral right? Why might we think that there is a moral right to be provided with health care regardless of one's ability to pay for that service?

 

  • How does responsibility government has to protect its citizens relate to the notion that it is responsible to provide them with health care?
  • Do different groups have different moral claims on our society? If so, do some social groups (children? veterans? seniors?) have a right to health care, while others do not?
  • Generally, what sort of responsibilities do we regard ourselves as having for the well-being of others? Generally, what are the limitations of those responsibilities?
    • Does society’s obligation to us depend on how well we take care of our own health? Are those who eat healthy foods, exercise, refrain from smoking, and avoid risky behaviors entitled to more health protections than those who live less healthy lifestyles?

 

  • Does the success or failure of the claim that there is a moral right to healthcare settle the question of whether or not the United States should have a system of universal health care coverage?

* For additional ideas on assignments and lesson plan you might develop with this material, visit our Suggestions for incorporating lessons ethics into your course page.