When Rights Are Not
As the battle over a "Patients' Bill of Rights" continues
to rage, we would do well to remind ourselves of what rights are
- and what they are not. If we fail to reverse the current trend
of creating rights which are not, we will lose the ones we truly
Most alarming about the proposed Patients' Bill of Rights - and
others usurping the label - is the insinuation its legitimacy would
be comparable to that of the original. Nothing could be farther
removed from the truth.
The label "Bill of Rights" refers, as everyone knows,
to the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
The wording of these amendments makes their function crystal clear.
"Congress shall make no law," we read in the first of
these, "...abridging...the right of the people..." "...the
right of the people," we read in the second, "shall not
In other words, these amendments do not presume to grant rights.
They merely affirm rights that the people possess, and guarantee
they shall be free from government interference.
Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
did not presume to grant rights. Edward Kennedy and John McCain
Next, the U.S. Constitution, as amended, speaks of "the people"
or of "citizens." That means everyone. But these new rights
do not apply equally to every American.
The most important difference, though, has to do with money. Nothing
in the original Bill of Rights costs anyone a cent. Freedom of speech
or assembly, being held harmless from unreasonable searches or seizures
do not entail the exchange of funds.
Every single new "right" either funnels money directly
to certain Americans at the expense of other Americans, or invites
certain Americans to help themselves to the purse of other Americans.
What the legislative harvest of the past decades has created are
not rights but entitlements. Entitlements cannot be traced back
to any principle or document of the American Founding. No American
is entitled to the fruits of the labor of other Americans. If we
are willing to face facts (these days we are not), it is easy to
discover that entitlements come from the world of socialism.
And here is the problem. Only a minority of our legislators are
socialists. The majority believe in the very American tradition
of helping those in need. What they have forgotten is how America
was supposed to deal with the unavoidable inequality among humans.
America's answer was equality before the law. Unlike other countries,
where obstacles bar the way to social mobility, the Founding Fathers
created a system of laws that permitted mobility in every direction.
Millions upon millions of stories attest to the success of that
America's answer was the application of common sense. Taking the
long-term view, the Founders assumed that freedom from government
interference would result in good people and communities, naturally
inclined to look after the needs of their neighbors. Unlike in other
lands, Americans were not forced to waste their creative energies
by constantly battling government. That was the reason for so few
laws (the fewer the laws, the broader the agreement), and for most
restrictions placed upon government. And only the politically blind
would fail to see that it has worked.
On the other hand, the creation of entitlements - whether to actual
cash or other peoples' purses - has resulted in a constant need
to reopen, re-balance, and re-regulate the same area of activity,
over and over again. That is not American common sense. That, let
us face it, is socialist blundering in a dark tunnel.
Few aspects of our lives are more intimately personal than our
health. No one can argue that we have been losing both the need
and our prerogative to make choices and decisions. One of the decisions
people had to make not so long ago was whether to spend money on,
say, $200 gym shoes or to see a better physician. Demagoguery has
made it impossible even to raise the question of personal responsibility.
To put it another way, do we really want to pay dental bills for
someone who will not brush twice a day and use the floss? Perhaps,
but then let it be our decision, not the right of the other person.
Just now, we are moving in the opposite direction. We are creating
"rights" on the assembly line, utterly blind to the fact
that, in the process, we are giving up the true rights whose affirmation
by the Framers made America different, successful, and free.