Perhaps the most significant and influential words ever written by an American can guide us in solving our health care crisis. For years, I coerced my high school students to memorize the inspirational passage from our Declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson magnificently declares, “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” According to these hallowed principles, should anyone in our society have to die of an untreated cancer or suffer for years in prison for an addiction, because of his economic status or lack of health insurance?

“Equality” and “right to life” today mean access to health care should be a right of citizenship, just like going to a public elementary or secondary school for free. That’s how all the other developed countries do it. With countless thousands of lives at stake, do we really want to be the “exceptional” nation when it comes to this issue?

Politicians who have resisted viewing health care as an American right seem more concerned about free-market dogma than the lives and health of our citizens. Are they too insulated living among the elite to see and feel compassion for those who lack health care, the “left-behind” Americans? If single-payer health care delivers good medical access for all its citizens at half the per-person cost of our system — as numerous countries have proven — why cling to a system that’s more expensive, less efficient and morally questionable?

We need to transition into a Medicare-for-all system, expanding the hugely popular program now reserved for seniors. Medicare was once feared and villainized as “socialized medicine” when it was proposed and initiated in the 1960s.

Unlike private health care plans that strain the budgets of employers and individuals with premiums, exclusions and co-pays, Medicare works efficiently. Unlike private plans that have paid millions to their CEOs while denying millions care because of pre-existing conditions, Medicare focuses on health care, not obscene profits — and it doesn’t eliminate our choice of doctors.

Think of Jimmy Kimmel’s kid, or John McCain, or your own family. Dealing with cancer or some other severe health crisis is the most difficult and frightening time in life. Why add more terror to an individual or family by making potential financial ruin part of the crisis — forcing one to refrain from needed medical treatment or face enormous, unpayable bills.

I write with passion because I’ve lost several close friends who were not, due to their financial status and lack of insurance, given access to adequate medical help — at least not soon enough to save their lives. I watched two of them die. Their right to life and opportunity for equality were denied. They were the stranger on the road, but no Good Samaritan helped them in time.

As a society, we need to help the stranger on the road, the poor and most vulnerable among us. The arc of our moral evolution leads toward increased compassion. Even more than saving the life of a fetus, viewing health care as a basic right would indeed demonstrate our commitment to the sanctity of life. This expansion of our rights would align us with virtually all other developed nations, our better angels and our own sacred creed.

— Ron Hertz lives in Ashland.