Letter: Civilized society cares for public health

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The column by John Balentine, “Health care is not a right,” caused me concern. As a cardiologist who has practiced in Portland for 37 years, I disagree: indeed, health care is a right.

The Declaration of Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life …” Mr. Balentine fails to recognize this fundamental right of human society.

He says, “We receive health care from willing doctors and nurses.”


Health care is a partnership between a patient and care providers, and includes a responsibility to maintain a healthy lifestyle, proper diet, and self care. Society has the responsibility to provide a clean environment, healthy water to drink and food to eat. The patient has the right to seek assistance from providers when something threatens their health or life. We share the responsibility for maintaining these environmental factors (this is called public health). This I share whenever I enter an examining room or sit by a sick patient’s bedside to provide care. The patient has the right to expect I will do my best for him or her; society has the right to demand of me my best whatever the outcome. We have a mutual responsibility to fulfill these rights.

This is not authoritarianism. It is the kind of behavior demanded of me, and the proper response of a civilized society to the health needs of its people.

Dr. Peter K. Shaw