post by Paul Kelleher
If you haven't yet seen the video of the audience reaction to a health policy question at the most recent GOP presidential debate, take a look now.
I agree with others that the audience's response was, at best, extremely distasteful. One wonders if their response would have been different if, rather than refer to a "healthy 30-year-old young man [who] has a good job, makes a good living" and who decides not to spend "200 or 300 dollars a month for health insurance," Wolf Blitzer had instead referred to someone who simply could not afford decent insurance (or who was denied coverage for some reason). My hope, obviously, is that we would have heard less clapping and fewer shouts of "YEAH!" when Ron Paul was asked if the 30 year old should be left to die.
The few shouts of "YEAH!" notwithstanding, it is interesting to me that the audience reaction that's getting attention is the clapping in response to this claim by Ron Paul:
“That's what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.”
I agree that one thing that freedom is about is the freedom to take risks. A key reason why it is generally wrong to coerce or manipulate another person (at least whenever this is in fact wrong to do) is that s/he is entitled to determine his/her own plan in life. The decisions of responsible individuals are theirs to make, and this is part of what makes life worth living: when things go well people are entitled to take some pride in the planning and effort that was involved in getting to that point. But the price of the opportunity to take pride in one's decision-making is that one must take some responsibility when things don't go as planned. If one were always rescued from the negative effects of one's decision-making, that would render pointless much of what makes life worth living.
But none of this entails that all decisions are such that people should be forced to bear the consequences of them. More importantly, none of this speaks to the issue of when a decision is sufficiently free and voluntary in the sense that betokens valuable human agency and which makes the outcome a suitable object of pride, contrition, self-reproach, etc. The hypothetical healthy 30 year old "who makes a good living" is not representative of the uninsured individuals many of us are concerned with. We're worried about those who are priced out of the market by virtue of health status or economic standing. We're also worried about those who will become priced out of the market if costs continue to rise. We believe that when these people get sick and cannot afford care, their being left to die is the flipside of an unjust economic system, and not the flipside of the correct way to respect autonomous decision-making.