Healthcare Is Not And Cannot Be A Human Right

According to the Catholic News Service, Pope Francis spoke at a meeting of volunteers and supporters of the Catholic medical charity Doctor With Africa in May, 2016:

‘In many parts of the world, especially in Africa’, the pope said, ‘basic health care is denied – denied! – to too many people. It is not a right for all, but rather still a privilege for a few, for those who can afford it.

‘Access to health services, to treatment and to pharmaceuticals is still a mirage,’ Pope Frances told the group…

This is just the sort of thing we would rather like our international leaders such as the pope to speak about. We want them to use their influence, such as it is, to encourage the better-off to help the poor whenever and wherever possible.

If the Holy Father had stopped there then we could have agreed with him whole-heartedly. but he didn’t; he went on to say,

Health is not a consumer good but a universal right, so access to health services cannot be a privilege[.]

Francis wasn’t the first pope to say this sort of thing. In fact, he was echoing Pope Paul VI’s odious 1967 encyclical, Populorum progressio (‘The Development of Peoples’).

Pope Francis’s statement was in turn quoted by US Senator Bernie Sanders in September, 2017, on Twitter:


The problem with this idea, that healthcare is a human right of the same type as free speech and the right to own property, is that healthcare is not a natural right. That is, it does not come as a result of one’s nature as a human being. Healthcare is a service provided by other human beings. If it were a human right then it would actually violate the human rights of those who provide it.

Healthcare isn’t just there for the taking. It isn’t generated spontaneously. It is the result of the men and women – the doctors and nurses and orderlies and lab technicians and radiographers and clerks and administrators and IT geeks – who labour together to provide the healthcare. If you have a right to healthcare then you have a right to their labour.

It doesn’t matter that they are paid for their labour. If you have a human right to have others labour to serve you then you are their master and they are your servants, compelled to serve you because it is your right. We have a name for that type of relationship.

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