An Examination of Buchanan and the Various Right-Claims to Decent Minimums

In this key excerpt from Securing Access to Health Care, Allen Buchanan explores the divergence between the universal right to decent minimums and practical policy of universal decent minimums. While he does assert that the universal right does not imply that such policy should be enacted, he also is cognizant of the fact that certain arguments do warrant such action. The crux of Buchanan’s argument resides in the key distinction between a right to overall, minimal, welfare floor of health for all and the availability of everything that can be done to ensure the overall health of all. A salient aspect of his argument that was specifically resonant to me was his “argument from special rights”. 

In this argument, Buchanan identifies three groups that should be given precedence in determining if they have a right-claim to universal decent minimums: historically marginalized groups such as African Americans or Native Americans, groups that have been harmed by a specific health risk such as victims of chemical exposure, and groups that have incurred harm through some sacrifice to the greater good such as veterans. These arguments, at the surface level and even to some scrutiny, hold up very well. They tie back to the central notion of injustices being redeemed or sacrifice being rewarded. I found a strong correlation between these philosophical relationships and prescriptions and the larger ethical ideas of Virtue Ethics, which emphasize mind, character, and sense of honesty. Assisting those who have sacrificed significantly relates to character, and repairing injustices speaks to a notion of honesty. 

Generally, I agree with this premise that Buchanan puts forth. However, upon closer examination, his ideas do have some inconsistencies. For example, the definition and scope of “injustice” is very subjective. People may define systemic injustices differently and believe that different groups are deserving of the preference and right-claim that Buchanan supports. This makes forging domestic healthcare policy very difficult. The same can be argued about his notion of sacrifice. Some may believe military service to be a sacrifice for the greater good, but others may deem it an unjust act. Empirically, this can be seen in the treatment of veterans after the Vietnam War. Exactly which groups are deserving of this treatment becomes very ambiguous in such cases. However, extrapolated to a more nuanced understanding of such policy, these ethical ideas may in fact function if and only if they are implemented as one aspect of a multifaceted healthcare objective.

One thought on “An Examination of Buchanan and the Various Right-Claims to Decent Minimums

  1. Justin Owen

    The argument for special rights of healthcare can be a slippery slope. Many other individuals of different groups that do not receive the special rights for healthcare will make a claim for their own special rights. People are typically blind to the experiences and problems others face because they do not face them themselves, and they can only focus on what is in front of them. Being a veteran, I hold multiple perspectives from the civilian, and servicemember aspect and have witnessed this first hand with others questioning if we deserve our benefits. I’m sure this will be applied, especially in terms of healthcare, with other groups as well.
    Another argument being made is well, why don’t we just have equal access to healthcare for all? This is unfortunately not feasible due to the limited supply of resources that the world can provide it’s people. That is why I believe we, as the United States, tie in capitalism to healthcare. It may not be the most perfect form of healthcare, but it helps us create abuduntly more resources, and conduct research to improve our resources, and even help us to create resources for those that are less fortunate in underpriveledge countries. The United States leads the entire world in research and innovation, and this is due heavily to the cost of healthcare and that is unfortunately something we do have to pay. Without the cost, and with the implementation of healthcare similar to that of Europe, where would our innovation be today? Is the more difficult access to healthcare due to price worth this innovation?


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