Winston Churchill on Health Care (1): “The Inheritance of All”

Winston Churchill on Health Care (1): “The Inheritance of All”

Q: Churchill on health care

(Updat­ed from 2009). A state­ment by Churchill on health care has been offered to show that he would sup­port U.S. heath care reforms. My Catholic parish pub­lished the afore­men­tioned state­ment in its week­ly bulletin.

“What Would Churchill Do? Here’s an inter­est­ing quote. It’s from for­mer British Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill explain­ing his view on  health care and gov­ern­ment in 1948. ‘The dis­cov­er­ies of heal­ing sci­ence must be the inher­i­tance of all. That is clear. Dis­ease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poor­est or the rich­est man or woman sim­ply on the ground that it is the ene­my. And it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its  full assis­tance to the hum­blest cot­tage as read­i­ly as to the  most impor­tant mansion….

‘Our pol­i­cy is to cre­ate a nation­al health ser­vice in order to ensure that every­body in the coun­try, irre­spec­tive of means, age, sex, or occu­pa­tion, shall have equal oppor­tu­ni­ties to ben­e­fit from the best and most up-to-date med­ical and allied ser­vices available.'”

The head­ing and quo­ta­tion imply that we Catholics should sup­port nation­al health care. I lack the rhetor­i­cal con­text and knowl­edge of con­di­tions exist­ing in Britain those many years ago. So I am won­der­ing: what was Churchill’s  actu­al posi­tion on nation­al health care? —J.R., Chicago

A: Considering what he said

We tend to dep­re­cate arti­cles sug­gest­ing that Churchill would do this or that about mod­ern sit­u­a­tions. His daugh­ter always asked peo­ple who say such things: “How do you know?” The answer is, of course, we don’t know.

The Churchill quo­ta­tion is not from 1948, but from his trib­ute to the Roy­al Col­lege of Physi­cians on 2 March 1944. (Com­plete text avail­able by email.)

You need to decide whether the excerpts joined togeth­er in your church bul­letin are in con­text. (I have insert­ed the break.) You are right to sug­gest that health care and con­di­tions in Britain in 1944 were dif­fer­ent. (They were far more crit­i­cal than con­di­tions in the USA today.)  Also, in 1944, the words “nation­al health ser­vice” did not nec­es­sar­i­ly mean what the Labour gov­ern­ment cre­at­ed after the war. Nor do they define what occurred in Amer­i­ca. What­ev­er its mer­its or demer­its, Oba­macare was not a British Nation­al Health Ser­vice. The argu­ment when it was up for debate was over whether it might lead to prob­lems sim­i­lar to the British system.

Inheritance and entitlement

Churchill believed that med­ical dis­cov­er­ies are “the inher­i­tance of all.” That leaves a fair­ly wide array of options. On 3 July 1945, too late to affect the gen­er­al elec­tion (which came two days lat­er), he issued a Cab­i­net Paper. It called for leg­is­la­tion for Nation­al Insur­ance and a Nation­al Health Ser­vice. But in 1945 the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty lost the gen­er­al elec­tion. The Labour Par­ty took over and cre­at­ed their own plan. To some, “Nation­al Insur­ance” means an alter­na­tive to “Nation­al Health Ser­vice.” A cit­i­zen might have, for exam­ple, a med­ical sav­ings account accru­ing to through pay­check with­hold­ing. The mir­a­cle of com­pound inter­est is a great thing.

Churchill did not stri­dent­ly oppose Labour’s Nation­al Health Ser­vice, though he was not an advo­cate. In the begin­ning, every­thing was to be free, of course. When costs began to rise, the Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer intro­duced charges for spec­ta­cles and den­tures. Churchill then protest­ed the heavy gov­ern­ment expen­di­tures (10 April 1951). The mon­ey, he argued, should come from reduc­tions elsewhere:

Those who hold that tax­a­tion is an evil must rec­og­nize that it falls upon this coun­try in a most griev­ous man­ner at the present time, con­tin­u­al­ly bur­den­ing the mass of the nation and con­tin­u­al­ly clogging—or, at any rate, ham­per­ing our efforts. There is to be an increase of tax­a­tion. I am not at all con­cerned today to exam­ine even cur­so­ri­ly the detailed pro­pos­als which the Chan­cel­lor has made, but tax­a­tion is to be increased; it is to be heav­ier still. Nat­u­ral­ly, many peo­ple will feel that the issue should be argued out very tense­ly as to whether oth­er economies in Gov­ern­ment expen­di­ture might not have relieved us from the need of apply­ing new bur­dens and new tax­a­tion. Of course, we know the times are difficult.

Further reading

Churchill was thus argu­ing for decreased gov­ern­ment expen­di­tures instead of high­er tax­es as the bet­ter approach to the prob­lem. In 1945, it had seemed much eas­i­er to solve. He con­sid­ered socialism—a far milder form than we know today—incompatible with human lib­er­ty. He sought a way of ame­lio­rat­ing the com­plaints of the poor (or rel­a­tive­ly poor) with­out con­fis­cat­ing the wealth of those who pro­duce it. To this end you may be inter­est­ed in an eru­dite study on this mat­ter by Lar­ry Arnn, Pres­i­dent of Hills­dale Col­lege: Churchill’s Tri­al: Win­ston Churchill and the Sal­va­tion of Free Government.

For a bone of con­tention about the Churchill pas­sage above, see Part 2 of this dis­cus­sion.

One thought on “Winston Churchill on Health Care (1): “The Inheritance of All”

  1. Good arti­cle. I didn’t know that cost con­cerns set in so quick­ly with Britain’s Nation­al Health Ser­vice, but I’m not sur­prised. It’s a les­son we failed to learn here. In 1965 Medicare was pro­ject­ed to cost $12 bil­lion by 1990. The actu­al cost was $108 bil­lion. The only way to avoid fed­er­al bank­rupt­cy from health­care costs and keep the cur­rent Medicare and Med­ic­aid pro­grams is to keep the health­care for the rest of the peo­ple in the pri­vate sec­tor with no gov­ern­ment finan­cial respon­si­bil­i­ty. Oba­macare was intend­ed to be an income redis­tri­b­u­tion scheme via the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment that destroyed the pri­vate sec­tor and hand­ed the man­age­ment of the health care sec­tor over to the bureau­crats who reg­u­late every trans­ac­tion no mat­ter how small. Of course we can’t tell, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to believe that WSC would have opposed it.

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