The attempt of the Obama administration to copy the NHS is beginning to unsettle many in the US. According to the WSJ, some of them are seriously considering legal action on the grounds of the right to privacy which is threatened by government health care rationing and other regulations. The precedent is of course the famous supreme court ruling of 1973 Roe v Wade which ruled out any state intervention in family planning measures such as abortion. Although the argument was not abortion-specific, the decision legalized abortion in the United States to this day. What is interesting is the fact that the ruling was based on the principles supporting the right to privacy. The reasoning behind this is expressed in a similar ruling of 1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey:
These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to liberty protected by the Fourth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.
Well the gist of all that can be similarly applied to many other medical decisions regarding disease prevention and treatment. Euthanasia is a case in point, but more generally the prioritizing of medical resources away from the elderly. This is something President Obama has openly embraced in a recent broadcast interview.
The free access to any kind of healthcare is something Americans have always taken for granted. Another way of looking at this is to consider the role model of the NHS and how far it has been allowed to trespass upon the Bill of Rights of 1688 and the principles of classical Whig liberalism. Obama’s policies should give us a welcome opportunity to open up a new discussion on the right to privacy in health care in this country too.