The topic of illegal immigrants and healthcare is an interesting one. Several considerations are made by ethical groups that they are entitled to healthcare. While the whole issue has been discussed by James Dwyer from the ‘nationalist ‘ as well as a ‘humanist’ perspective, I am compelled to provide my own point of view on both accounts and where our possible standpoint could be. From a pragmatist perspective, it could be argued that all these illegal immigrants are in the United States on the premise of illegality. But when every society takes a moralist stand on the social responsibilities its own citizens are entitled to, it must be said that the same could be extended to these illegal immigrants.
When legal citizens of a country have conditions such as cardiac arrests, cancer, contagious diseases, there is little doubt that these illegal immigrants could have the same conditions. If there is a need for medical care among legal citizens and illegal immigrants, the primary ethical responsibility would be to treat their medical conditions irrespective of their status.
One of the stern arguments against providing healthcare benefits to these illegal immigrants is the economic viability of the country. Could the US afford providing healthcare to these illegal immigrants? It could be said that these illegal immigrants pay sales tax, gas tax and hence they also contribute to the economic scenario. But one point I would like to raise here is; does it really matter whether there was an economic gain or a loss? When the claim to treat them is made on purely moral grounds, would it be appropriate to consider an economic viewpoint? Even if such an estimate of economic gain or loss is made, how can it be considered accurate enough to deny healthcare benefits to these illegal immigrants?
While my first claim of ethical responsibility was aimed at society as a whole, there is also a perspective of physicians. It would be considered an ethical responsibility of every physician to treat a patient in need. How would an illegal immigrant worker be any different? Also if a person requires an immediate surgery to save his life, would it be ethical to consider his visa status before treating him?
One other consideration is from the perspective of employers of these illegal immigrants. If you deem them necessary to your company in terms of economic benefits, wouldn’t they be entitled to a basic level of healthcare? Finally, what of legal citizens in this country who are felons? If they necessitate a basic level of healthcare, these illegal immigrants would be entitled to the same.
There are several pitfalls to offering healthcare to illegal immigrants. A whole country could end up being a haven to illegal immigrants who cannot afford healthcare in their respective countries. Primarily, while even legal citizens haven’t been screened for all diseases could it be claimed that from herein the authorities wish to prevent such diseases? Hence, the spread of such diseases by illegal immigrants especially can be curtailed. Also, if these illegal immigrants bring in diseases not previously seen in the United States, wouldn’t the cost of healthcare for legal citizens increase? It would be deemed a responsibility of the authorities to prevent such cases. Finally, it is difficult to predict to what end can we sustain providing healthcare to these illegal immigrants? It would make any country vulnerable to illegal immigrants if it was treating medical conditions considered expensive in other countries.
Like James Dwyer says, we should not focus too narrowly on what we owe legal citizens or too broadly on what we owe human beings.