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October 3, 1980

A Physician's Perspective on a Right to Health Care

JAMA. 1980;244(14):1591-1596. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310140049030

POLITICAL scientists and philosophers have described elegantly the origin and evolution of rights language that has occurred in Western society during the past 200 years.1,2 These analyses suggest that there are legal and moral rights, positive and negative rights, and absolute and conditional rights, and, furthermore, that there exists a subtle relationship between rights and obligations.

Rights language is established as part of our political rhetoric when attempts are made to extend a variety of services to those whom one wishes to benefit. In medicine, we have witnessed an explosion in the use and misuse of the language of rights. Claims of rights in medicine abound and include a right to obtain treatment and a right to refuse treatment, a right to health care, a right to complete truth, a right to confidentiality, a right to die, a right to live, and even occasionally, an assertion of a right