Buchanan and the Right to a Decent Minimum

In “The Right to a Decent Minimum of Health Care,” Allen Buchanan begins by clarifying what constitutes something as a right. He explains that just because we can agree that people would benefit from having guaranteed healthcare, this doesn’t mean that anybody has a true right to healthcare because there is no solid justice theory supporting the right. In other words, just because something is “good” doesn’t mean we are necessarily entitled to it. 

Buchanan then explains that providing a decent minimum of healthcare can be very attractive, but before determining whether or not this idea should be implemented, people must agree upon what is considered a “decent minimum” and what procedures and treatments would be covered under such a plan. If the standard for the “decent minimum” is set low, Buchanan argues that people should be allowed to spend additional money on a higher-quality healthcare plan if they please, no different from how people can choose to spend their money on other items, like fancy cars or other expensive items. This would mean that wealthier people would still have an advantage when it comes to healthcare. If the standard for the decent minimum is raised, there could potentially be a shortage of resources. 

While I understand the point he makes, I disagree with Buchanan’s argument that healthcare is not a right. The US Constitution outlines Americans’ rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Does access to a basic level of healthcare not fall under the category of life? I don’t necessarily believe that every non-essential or extremely expensive procedure should be covered under a standard form of healthcare provided to everyone, but some more commonplace procedures can be the difference between life and death.

While I agree that people should be able to spend the money they earn however they please, I feel allowing people to pay for a more advantageous healthcare plan draws a huge gap between different groups in our society. The only way to prevent this problem is to ensure that the decent minimum encompasses any illness or condition that can be potentially life-threatening, even if it may be more expensive. Obviously a decent minimum cannot include everything, or it wouldn’t be considered a minimum. However, it’s important to note that there’s a tremendous difference between not being able to afford a new car and not being able to afford cancer treatment, for example. While having the new car may be desirable and beneficial, not having this luxury is not immediately putting anybody at harm. Healthcare, on the other hand, can be a matter of life and death in many cases. 

Buchanan’s point that there is no direct right to healthcare may be valid, but there is no denying that every American has a Constitutional right to life. Because certain procedures and treatments can save lives, denying a livable, decent minimum of healthcare is a right because it provides people with the means they need to live.

One thought on “Buchanan and the Right to a Decent Minimum

  1. Cassie Srb

    I strongly agree with Leah’s statement that every American has a constitutional right to life. I also don’t agree with Buchanan’s argument that healthcare is not a right. Buchanan’s view is interesting because it seems he is hesitant to label healthcare as a universal right because it does not fit under the definition of what is morally “right”. However, Buchanan supports individuals having basic healthcare, as long as it isn’t labeled as a right.
    This is supported through his assertion that the necessary arguments to look at this issue through are special rights, prevention of harm, prudential circumstances, and enforced beneficence. In other words, Buchanan believes that we should be looking at this issue through lens’ other than healthcare being a universal right. For special rights, he speaks of African Americans and Native Americans deserving special treatment due to continued harm brought on by their past and continuous discrimination. For prevention of harm, he states that services should be in place to prevent citizens from group harm, such as sanitation and vaccines that would cause more harm if not prevented. For prudential circumstances, he speaks of protecting the national defense, meaning special healthcare for veterans who suffered in the line of duty for their country. Lastly, he talks of enforced beneficence, in which he claims having enforced policies in place, such as driving only on the right side of the road, would help attain goals such as limiting motor vehicle accidents. He states that with all of these arguments in effect, it reaches the same conclusion as having a decent minimum of healthcare that is labeled as a right.
    As was shown in the previous paragraph, I don’t think Buchanan was against having policies in place that would provide care for all, he was just not a supporter of labeling it as a moral right. I do not agree with his hesitancy to label this a right, as we all have a constitutional right to life as Leah stated.


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