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Harm v. Wrong (What do I have right to?)
January 23, 2009, 11:28 pm
Filed under: Ethics, Politics

It is one thing to harm someone, but it is another thing to wrong them.  

Imagine I parked my car in a parking spot that you wanted to park in.  Because of me you have to walk an extra 100 meters.  

In some sense I’ve harmed you.  I’ve denied you some good.  I’ve caused you suffering of some kind.  Not major suffering, yet some sort of suffering in some sense.  

But unless I butted in line (or something of the like), I didn’t wrong you.  You had no right to the spot (unless maybe you saw it first).


The other day, I heard a debate on the radio about whether mobile phones were a human right.  They are almost certainly a human good.  Or the communication made possible by them is a human good.  Or it is a means to various human goods.  

But are you wronged if you don’t have a mobile phone?  You might be denied some good.  It might even harm you if you don’t have a mobile phone.  But are you wronged if you don’t have one?


Here in Canada we pride ourselves on our universal healthcare system.  Why should the rich get better care than the poor?  I get that.

But why should the rich get better food and better exercise?  Shouldn’t we have a universal food and exercise system?

If you don’t believe in two-tier healthcare, why do you believe in two-tier (or many-tier) food?

Because of this, I’m tempted to think that two-tier healthcare is good and proper.

One more reason: if I have 5 million dollars, and I’m dying, surely I have the right to do whatever I can to save myself, right?  If I’m allowed to buy any number of luxuries with that money, how can I not be allowed to try to save my life?

None of this means I’m against the social safety net.  


I think you have the right to do all you can to save yourself.  But I can’t see how you can have a right to the very best healthcare.  There is only so much money in our healthcare budget.  And so, right now, Canadians aren’t getting the the very best healthcare money can buy.  At most, Canadians get the best healthcare that our healthcare budget allows.  Otherwise there wouldn’t be enough money to go around. 


If we really have a right to the very best healthcare, then we in Canada are being wronged.  

I’d say we aren’t being wronged, though we are probably being harmed.  

Healthcare is undoubtedly a human good.  And so a bad healthcare system is bad.  (Our system is relatively good, I think.)  We’d be a bad society if we had bad healthcare.  And so there is some sense in which we ought to work towards the best healthcare we can.  

But is healthcare a right

Again, undoubtedly it is good.  And it’s undoubtedly bad if we lack it.  But does it count as a right?


What if harms become wrongs given the right context.  That seems right.  The very rich wrong (and not merely harm) the poor when they leave them in their suffering.  And so, since our society is very rich, in our society healthcare is a right.


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