Hazardous to Your Health


Hazardous to Your Health, by Marvin Henry Edwards, Arlington House, 1972, Pp. 318, $9.95.

In a recent article in REASON Dr. Robert M. Sade disputed the "right to health" cry which lies behind the current political movement to adopt some form of socialized medicine in the U.S. Marvin H. Edwards' book, HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH, explores the whole campaign—its basis, its claims, and what's wrong with it.

While prominent figures like Senator Kennedy find it hard to swallow that the U.S. is the only major western nation which has not adopted a compulsory nationwide government health system, and national magazines, television documentaries, and labor union leaders rail against the "health crisis" in America, calling for the government to do something, Mr. Edwards is one of the few raising a voice to present the other side of the issues. As he points out, the debate usually takes the form of which government program to adopt, not whether we should even resort to government control of any sort.

With his background as editor of PRIVATE PRACTICE, a professional medical magazine, this is not the first time Mr. Edwards has spoken out against the attempts to initiate comprehensive government health programs and for the present system of health care delivery in the U.S. As the author stresses, "This is not a pro-doctor book.…it is a pro-private enterprise book." As such, it presents the most basic argument, for libertarians, against national health insurance and (just one step away) any form of socialized medicine.

Mr. Edwards' attack on government health programs is three-pronged: not only does he argue against the concept on a philosophical basis, but he meets the proponents on their own ground, with a consideration of the arguments which are given for government programs, and what the consequences of such programs have been in other nations, and would be in this country. He does an effective job of demolishing the currently widespread assertions that the quality of medical care in the U.S. is poor (in comparison to other nations) and the cost inordinately high, by marshaling his own statistics to counter these claims and by showing that a good portion of the claims actually consist of false propaganda, the misrepresentation of statistics to "prove" a "health care crisis." According to Mr. Edwards, and his point is well substantiated, there is no crisis in health care delivery in America; there is no sound basis for throwing out the present system and replacing it with a government-controlled one in the interest of solving the alleged problems of quality and cost.

As a matter of fact, says Mr. Edwards, government programs will be no solution, but will turn out to be "hazardous to your health." To back this up he presents a large amount of material about existing national health systems in other countries and the government programs already initiated in the U.S. (Medicare, Medicaid, VA Hospitals). The information provides a convincing indictment of government health systems. The evidence is that quality and increasing costs, the two targets of the proponents, actually are worsened rather than improved under national systems. "Americans faced with proposals for massive new Federal health insurance programs can reflect on a lengthy history of costly government failure in other areas…projects that have too frequently collapsed under the weight of faulty concepts, inept planning and inefficient administration."

It is the author's contention that the failures of the national health programs can be traced, not to the planning, as has been argued by their proponents, but to the concept itself. Besides "the faulty concept that government bureaucracy can successfully solve problems," there is the fallacy in the economic thinking—there is no such thing as "free medicine" because ultimately it is the taxpayer who provides the government funds to finance the programs.

More fundamentally, the author resolves the issue to one concerning the rights of the persons involved. He dismisses the "right to health care" argument by pointing out that the desirability of good health for each individual does not establish it as the individual's right, not in the sense of a basic human right which must be guaranteed by society. It is the latter sense of "right" which lies at the base of the entire welfare system and the government health concept. But this entails a violation of each citizen's right not to have the rewards of his labor seized to provide for the needs of other members of the community, and overlooks the legitimate rights of those who must provide the care. And, as with any increase in governmental control, national health programs will include the imposition of more limitations on individual freedoms, more governmental controls over social behavior. As the author shows, this is not a mere hypothetical point—under existing national programs there have been numerous instances of encroachment of individuals' rights to privacy in the therapeutic situation, to choose the persons with whom the particular relationships involved in medical care will be established, and to negotiate for and receive the desired amount and quality of care.

On the whole, Mr. Edwards' book is a well-documented and well-presented rebuttal to the arguments being given in favor of national control of health care delivery. The only shortcoming of the book is the author's insistence that there is no appreciable problem with the availability and cost of medical care in the U.S. Better to acknowledge that a problem may exist and argue that governmental control is no solution. But Mr. Edwards' preoccupation with the claims of the propagandists is understandable. Although the bulk of his book does deal with the arguments of the proponents, and this is valuable for meeting with those kinds of contentions, the soundness of Mr. Edwards' position rests with the basic issues he raises, issues which are never considered in the material presented for popular consumption, and which are of interest to libertarians.

Ms. Zupan is a student of psychology and philosophy at State University College, Fredonia, NY.