September 22, 2008
The news has coincided recently with protesters demanding to be able to purchase raw milk, the AMA warning that home births are not safe, and desperate cancer victims reserving the right to buy alternative “cures” not approved by the F.D.A.
My father was born in 1918 in his mother’s bedroom, drank raw milk and was raised in a family that used a variety of homemade or traveling medicine man’s potions to cure what ails you. Farmers plowed with teams, had no indoor plumbing, chewed tobacco and worked like dogs in the field. The average life span of a man born in 1918 was 52 years. Significantly, among the causes of death were physical injury, infectious diseases and childbirth, for both the mother and the baby.
In the ensuing years, science, medicine, an easier lifestyle, air conditioning, pasteurization, preservatives and laws to ensure that drug companies prove their product does what they claim, have changed our lives and almost doubled our lifespan.
But, does the government have the right to insist you have your baby in the hospital, drink pasteurized milk and prevent you from taking unapproved natural supplements to treat your cancer?
The answer is no. Just like they have no right to stop you from smoking, riding your motorcycle or your bull, or playing football without a helmet. In the beginning of the last century, ‘caveat emptor’ ruled. ‘Buyer Beware’ was the code of business. Consumers were not protected from salesmen. Over time, as we increased our knowledge of disease and human health, the government began to intervene… pasteurized milk to prevent tuberculosis, licensing of medical personnel, doctors, nurses, and midwives, establishing the F.D.A. to protect the public, O.S.H.A. to safeguard employees, warning labels on cigarettes and alternative medicines, inspecting meat, automobiles, and soil testing sewage drain fields before construction.
Sometime these interventions were designed to protect you from your neighbor. But the government does not, in my mind, have the right to protect you from yourself.
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However, I do think that there ought to be some mechanism to protect children, maybe even animals from those who prefer to live their lives as if it were still 1918. Just because you don’t want to wear your seatbelt, doesn’t mean your little kids shouldn’t buckle up!
Email Baxter Black at firstname.lastname@example.org