By Dennis Archambault
People who believe health care is a right, might want to pay attention to a recent court case that concluded that education isn’t a right (https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2018/06/29/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-against-snyder-over-detroit-kids-literacy/747732002/). There certainly is legal reasoning behind the pros and cons of this argument, but with the conservative bent of the judicial system these days, it’s safe to assume that the definition of “rights” guaranteed by the constitution is fairly narrow and not really open for debate.
What’s interesting in Judge Stephen Murphy’s response is that he acknowledged the deplorable condition of education for students in low income communities like Detroit. “The conditions and outcomes of plaintiffs’ schools, as alleged, are nothing short of devastating. When a child who could be taught to read goes untaught, the child suffers a lasting injury – and so does society.” But that’s not a matter for the courts. “In other words, access to literacy is not a fundamental right,” Judge Murphy wrote. It’s a matter for elected officials, judged in the court of public opinion and eventually in elections.
An affluent society that believes in social equity should provide a basic standard of living that guarantees opportunity for the vulnerable, but it is not bound to do so. Education, health care and disease prevention services, housing, food security, safety, mobility – these are social values that need to advocated for, and once won, defended as public opinion and elected leadership changes. These are social determinants of health and wellness, which judges like Stephen Murphy would say are important to society, but not guaranteed by the constitution.
The takeaway from this decision? The political process matters. As crazy as it seems at times, it is the process through which a democracy thrives, and how society advances, or not.
Dennis Archambault is vice president for Public Affairs, at Authority Health.