Last month I drove toward the notion of a right to health care by considering the European idea of a right to bear children. Now let's consider the right to health care in the context of the right to play.
Last week I listened to an NPR report (and read some related stories) that talked about the inclusive playground movement, an effort to make playgrounds more accessible to kids with disabilities. I learned that we now consider play a civil right:
...Last year, the federal government made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"Play areas are not just places where kids have fun," says Eve Hill, a civil rights lawyer with the Justice Department, which enforces the ADA. "They are places where kids learn to interact with the world, and with each other." That places playgrounds in the same category as other civil rights touchstones.
"Recreation was one of the places where the civil rights movement started, with desegregating pools and desegregating lunch counters and movie theaters. These were not unimportant," she says [Robert Benincasa, "For Kids with Special Needs, More Places to Play," NPR: All Things Considered, 2013.08.27].
Since the first Bush Administration, we have recognized as a nation that physical and mental impairments should not interfere with the rights of any citizen to "participate in the mainstream of American life—to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services." It doesn't matter why a citizen is in a wheelchair—three year old with spina bifida, adult with brain damage from drinking and driving, we don't care. Every citizen has rights, and we will all pay extra to ensure that every citizen can exercise rights like using a public toilet, accessing a voting booth, and sliding down a slide with the other kids.
We don't let disability stop Americans from participating in normal community life. Don't we have a similar obligation with regards to health care costs? Whether people get sick or injured through genetics, bad behavior, or bad luck, they can be financially crippled by a single medical incident. As the number-one cause of bankruptcy in the United States, high health care costs can destroy a family's savings and credit rating, raising significant barriers to their ability to "participate in the mainstream of American life."
If children have a right to play, don't we have an obligation to ensure parents aren't so bankrupted by a medical mishap that they never have time to take their kids to play?
In anticipation of fallacious conservative hollerings about natural rights, let's read what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said about rights and economic security:
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made [Franklin Delano Roosevelt, State of the Union address, 1944.01.11].
In positing a "Second Bill of Rights," Roosevelt was saying that rights don't mean much without the practical safeguards that allow us to enjoy them. FDR included in his Second Bill of Rights "The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health" and "The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment."
With a little work, one can read a right to play into FDR's subsidiary, practical rights. And we currently recognize that right. One doesn't have to work nearly as hard to see in FDR's thinking the right to health care that we still struggle to accept.