Autonomy. This is the ethical value, a sub-set of the “respect” section of the Josephson Institute’s Six Pillars of Character, that is suddenly absent from the value set of the New American Left. This is cause for concern to say the least, because autonomy is the very value that was the impetus for the nation’s founding, and that is at the core of the Bill of Rights as well as the “inalienable rights” that introduce Mr. Jefferson’s mission statement for our strange experiment in self-governance. Beginning back in Bill Clinton’s administration, advocates of a nationalized health care system, including President Clinton himself, began floating the historical and logical nonsense that Jefferson and the Founders would have enthusiastically supported national health care. This is, of course, a cynical lie if one is educated (as it was in Clinton’s case) or proof positive of complete unfamiliarity with, oh, everything about the Founders, their political philosophy, and political philosophy generally. Whatever the value of a national health care program, the idea that the government would presume to dictate how one managed something so personal and intimate as one’s own health would have horrified every signer of the Declaration, from its author to Button Gwinett.
That Mr. Jefferson’s supposed followers—he is the Original Democrat, by most lights, would reach the point of maintaining that the public’s beliefs, opinions and attitudes must be bent to their will is a development that threatens the existence of United States society and culture as we know it. The recent flare in this emergency arrived via the mugging of Brandon Eich, ex-CEO of Mozilla, who was deemed by the liberal elite as unworthy of keeping his job (though Mozilla is an internet company and he is an innovator in the field) because he was not convinced of the rightness of same-sex marriage by the elite’s newly determined, and well past, deadline—a deadline that such progressive icons as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton also missed, but never mind. Conformity to Progressive Truth has become the order of the day, and woe be to any good citizen who dares to oppose it. Does this sound like freedom to you? “Choice,” to use a popular rallying cry in the protest against the “War against Women?” It doesn’t sound like freedom to me.
A pause is in order however. Government and the Rules of Law, which even the most radical Founders believed in, both require the surrender of some degree of autonomy. The test is, and has always been, in this natural rights-based society, whether the exercise of a particular act of autonomy sufficiently affects the welfare of others to warrant government regulation. Society and civilization, after all, does require acceptance of certain limitations, obligations and responsibilities. Accepting the benefits of a society imposes the acceptance of certain curbs on liberty. The question is, and has always been, how much liberty can be restricted for the good of society before there is no more liberty, and we have handed our welfare over completely to a faceless, bureaucratic authority, which is assuredly bad for civilization, society, and everyone in it except those calling the shots, and probably them as well. How do we know this? We know it because it has always been this way. We know it because power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We know it because large groups of people charged with doing any big job are inevitably sloppy, careless, lazy, arrogant and inefficient. Individual citizens are often sloppy, careless, lazy, arrogant and inefficient too, but it is part of the mission statement of this nation that if anyone is going to screw up my life, it should be me.
Thus our autonomy, which is naturally imperiled by government—“Can’t live with it, can’t live without it!”—needs to be carefully guarded and protected, and not surrendered in large chunks without due attention, caution, and reluctance.
I was watching an old (about ten years or so) National Geographic show about the FBI yesterday, and was struck by how Democratic Senators were expressing alarm then at domestic surveillance measures in the Patriot Act that the current Administration’s NSA conduct dwarfs in scope and intrusiveness, and nothing has occurred in the ten-year span that would seem cataclysmic enough to explain it. The initial incursion on our liberties, however, was deemed acceptable because of that oldest of all justifications for tyranny, security. Keeping that legitimate societal objective from swallowing our autonomy requires constant vigilance and skepticism that we once relied upon liberals to provide—so much for that plan. Now, after abdicating their traditional and necessary role of looking out for our autonomy and individual rights in the unavoidable area of societal safety, Mr. Jefferson’s heirs are opening up new frontiers where they will be imperiled, if they are not already. One such frontier is the environment, an area of shared societal impact that Jefferson could not have foreseen. In a shared society, my litter is your eyesore, your coal-burning factory is my emphysema, and complete autonomy is not an option. Yes, it’s a necessary chunk gone, but it is still a chunk.
Making individual health part of a shared societal responsibility has a great deal of compassionate and even practical appeal, but it also requires Americans to surrender yet another large chunk of their autonomy, and this feature, an unavoidable one, of any national health care law and system, not just Obamacare, has not only been neglected in the national debate but intentionally obscured and actively derided by supporters of the law. The primary means of by-passing the critical matter of autonomy is by focusing only on one half of the equation, a standard tactic by both sides of the political divide on many issues. “Abortion on demand must be an absolute right because a woman should have dominion over her own body!” Unborn child? What unborn child? “Nobody should be forced to provide a service or product in violation of their religion or personal beliefs!” Discrimination? Who said anything about discrimination? Ethical conflicts are achieved by balance, and balance is impossible if one side of the equation is left out of the calculation.
No discussion of the Affordable Care Act should fail to include its likely, potential or eventual affects on the autonomy of U.S. citizens. Any advocate so dishonest as to refuse to deal with that crucial issue, and any citizen so ignorant as to be unaware of it, is irresponsible. Once we are all required to sacrifice money and freedom based on the health of others, our personal autonomy is not only affected but affected at the most personal and private level, an incursion far more intimate than our society or our founding documents had ever contemplated. If you want to ride your Harley without a helmet, be my guest, you moron—but if I have to pay park of the cost of keeping you on a ventilator, I’m going to support a law that stops you, and maybe that even bans motorcycles. If you want to smoke your brains out, swell, you idiot, but if I have to pay for your radiation treatments, your right to abuse yourself just vanished. And if you want to keep grandma alive for six months more, even though she’s 94 and can barely talk, hear, walk or think, that’s dandy with me, Croesus, but once it goes on my tab, “Hello, Death Panel! Come right in!”
TV’s new Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray, mirroring millions of one-side-of -the-equation zombies, gushed all over President Obama for helping the uninsured. Fact: a law that does good things is still lousy law if it does more bad things. We know that Democrats and progressives don’t think budgets, deficits, debts and taxes (on someone else) matter. but what about autonomy? Does losing that matter? Understand, I can respect the point of view that losing the autonomy to choose how we work, play, eat, exercise, relax, and spend our money (buy that health insurance or else!) is justified by a fairer, more affordable health system, but I cannot respect the fiction—that is, lie— being perpetrated that this isn’t the course we are taking. That choice is an ethical one, and it is only ethical if it is made with full understanding and disclosure of two facts:
1. By accepting a collective approach to health care, we are guaranteeing ongoing erosion of our personal autonomy, and
2. The government bureaucrats who will decide how we live our lives once we have surrendered that autonomy are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.
Regarding the second point—I think we’ve covered the first—meet 20-year-old Yale student Frances Chan, a threat to the health of the Yale community:
Chan, a natural ectomorph who weighs 92 pounds, went to her college’s medical clinic to check a lump in her breast. It was benign, but Yale decided that Chan was too thin to meet Yale’s healthy student mandates, and its clinician ordered the student to meet with her for weekly weigh-ins. Chan says she was told, ” If it were up to the administration, school would already be out for you. I’m just trying to help.’” In other words, she faced suspension if she didn’t conform her physique to Yale’s specifications—in the best interest of collective community health, of course.
Chan insisted that she did not have an eating disorder, but to no avail.“I’ve always been small,” she wrote in the Huffington Post. “I’ve been 5’2” and 90 pounds since high school, but it has never led to any illnesses related to low weight or malnutrition. My mom was the same; my whole family is skinny. We all enjoy Mom’s fabulous cooking, which included Taiwanese beef noodle soup, tricolor pasta, strawberry cheesecake, and cream puffs, none of which make the Weight Watchers shortlist. I just don’t gain weight easily.”
Perhaps, being of Asian heritage, Chan is familiar with the famous Japanese proverb, The nail that sticks up will be hammered down. This is also the motto of OKCupid, Yale, and maybe, some day, a health insurance death panel coming to your town. She was told that she had to submit to weekly weigh-ins and urine tests, three blood tests, appointments with a mental health counselor and a nutritionist, and an EKG. Finally, after months of arguing with Yale, media attention embarrassed Yale into backing off.
Remember, Yale is a supposedly a bastion of liberal thought, full of intelligent people who are a good bet to be more rational than the government types who will be dictating who you live, exercise and eat in the future. They are likely to be even more ridiculous, arbitrary and coercive than the health Nazis at Old Eli.
Now, for a glimpse into that future, meet Anita Albrecht…
…..victim of the British one-size-must-fit-all socialized medicine system that Harry Reid and his ilk are just dying to get installed in the U.S.
Anita was told by a U.K. nurse that she needed to lose weight, because she was, according to government charts, nearly obese. Albrecht, who is 4feet 11 inches tall, was consulting the nurse during an appointment about contraception at a family planning clinic in London. Ordered to exercise more (she’s a competeitive bodybuilder and personal trainer, as if you couldn’t tell), eat less and to cut alcohol and fruit juice from her diet, she was aghast and indignant. “She put me on scales and clearly I’m a lot heavier than other women because of my height and I’m a bodybuilder,” said Anita. “I felt insulted, was made to feel as though I was overweight, over eating and I felt a knock in my confidence.When I tried to explain to her about body composition she wasn’t interested at all.”
Of course the nurse wasn’t interested. Big Brother knows what’s good for you, and it can’t manage a huge system by making exceptions for every anomaly. Anita just has to get rid of all that dangerous muscle if she’s going to get her socialized health care, and that’s all there is to it.(Again, Big Brother MD backed down here, too, thanks to adverse publicity.)
Plus the nurse is obviously an idiot. But this is the very factor that those who would eagerly trade in large chunks of our precious autonomy for the presumed greater good seem to be unwilling to accept: when we give up our autonomy, those who take over are seldom as wise and all-knowing as they pretend to be. Besides, if someone is going to make stupid decisions about your life and lifestyle, it should be you. Only if you pay for it yourself, of course.
At least, that’s what Thomas Jefferson believed.