How far do an individual's rights over their own body extend?

An individual has the right over their body, so long as they are fully aware of all the harm which they do to their bodies, and the full consequences. The individual must be informed of these consequences; otherwise they may need to be restrained so as to ensure that they do not give themselves unintended harm. Thus the government has a role in looking after the individual and regulating what they do to their body.

Smoking cigarettes is a clear example of how one can damage oneself. Smoking causes lung cancer, impotence, and ‘harms your unborn child’. But people still smoke cigarettes. Why? Because they perceive a benefit from it, not a negative. The states foremost role must be to educate on the risks of cigarette smoking, so as to ensure people see it as harmful rather than positive.

There are things which will stop the effectiveness of education. The biggie is probably addiction. An addictive substance which causes harm, such as cigarettes, adds to the problem of giving up. There is an actual negative to giving up, that of withdrawal. Thus the state has to ensure that the individual acts in their overall best interests. The state thus provides help to quit smoking (or whatever addictive substance it is). Addiction is an area in which the mind has lost control over the body, and it can be seen as the state trying to wrest the control back to the mind (by helping break the addiction).

Another is of course a mental illness (of some sort). Depressed people try to kill themselves or mutilate themselves. They are not fit enough mentallu as to control whether they live or die. These people need the state to ensure that they do not harm themselves. If someone has lost the ability to tell, within reason, what does and does not harm them, if they cannot accurately weigh the risks, then they need them weighed for them. This is why we have mental health services. It is also where the state assumes full responsibility for the wellbeing of an individual.

The state must also prevent people from taking their own lives, through whatever means. There is no person out there who would advocate for the unreasoned taking of one’s own life (so excluding unbearable pain). But it is not deliberate actions that take the most lives; it is the unintended side consequences of doing an action. Thus the state must ensure that action taken is not destroying one’s life. Put it this way- no one would object to the government building bridges that can’t be jumped off, so what is the difference to the government forcing someone to stop smoking (so that they don’t die of lung cancer)? It is the intended result of the action. One jumps of a bridge to kill oneself, one smokes for the ‘coolness’ or the ‘head rush’ or whatever. But smoking will and does kill So the government is actually doing these people a favour by telling them not to smoke.

Let me also put in a cynical argument here. If you stop smoking, you don’t get lung cancer. If you don’t get lung cancer, then you don’t go to hospital. If you don’t go to hospital, then you don’t cost money to the taxpayer. So for the cost of banning/limiting/educating (whatever the decision is) smoking, the government actually makes a savings. This is being beneficial to society. Less money on saving smokers’ lives, more money on hip operations, education etc.

The state regulating the individual’s autonomy over their body benefits society as a whole (not just monetarily). Society does benefit from people being fit and active. People are not islands; they do interact with each other.

People who are physically in shape are more productive. They take less sick days off from work. They are more able to handle stress from stressful jobs. They are more aware in general. Hence productivity is increased. As we all know, productivity increases is a good thing for society. The state’s decision to regulate the body of one individual benefits the social body as a whole.

Of course one person’s self harm can inflict harm upon others. The classic example of this is of course smoking. One’s decision to harm their body (whether knowingly or not) affects the health of another. Thus the preventing of one person from hurting their body will actually save another person’s from harm. This of course is harder in areas such as self-mutilation.

The government is ultimately the representative institution of society. If society deems an act to be wrong to a certain point, it becomes illegal. This can be seen with murder for instance. So if society begins to see the taking of a drug as a wrong then it will become illegal. This has happened with ‘P’, heroine, coke etc. There is always going to be limitations upon what the individual can do with their body based upon social norms.

The government does have a responsibility to ensure that the health of its citizens is in good shape. The government must follow good science, they cannot ban a product/activity on a whim, there must be good backing for it. Ultimately it does come down to the individual, who can always break the law, but the state does have a role in its citizen’s lives.


Wow Greg, You have been busy!

I'd barely got over the Government Controlled Charities concept. A fairly interesting concept: A Govt controlled charity wouldn't have to spend money on convincing you to donate. Your tax return could just calculate an automatic EXTRA 10% (perhaps) of your gross income and you get to feel good that the government department of Your Higher Self would spend it appropriately on the blind, the puppies, Mosquito Nets in Zaire, the Opera House, Hawkes Bay Gannet Colony and Invercargill.

Now we get government control of the individual for their own good. Fair enough. Although with the smoking example, smoking was touted as healthy and good for you in the early days (as mentioned by Looke's post on your NZ site). Lucky we weren't forced into it back then.

I can see where this is going. I do believe that the NEWS SERVICE would be another one of these organisations, that under your watchful eye, could get a complete overhaul. Newspapers and media tend to be biased one way or another. A government controlled news service would be able to report on all issues in a fair manner. Articles that were not in the public's best interest (which is, basically, the state's best interest) could be shelved, because it would be dangerous to spread misinformation. People might protest. They could hurt others, or themselves. Controlling the news service would help satisfy both areas.

I think Cuba has gone down this track. You might want to see how they are going. According to Te Wananga Tertiary Institute, they are highly literate at least.

Well, the least I can say is that your faith in all things governmental is truly stellar. 

Posted by ZenTiger
3/07/2005 06:48:00 am  
Perhaps I should have explained that I am developing the dialetic propostion: “How far do a State’s rights over your body extend?”, but it seems obvious.

I got off topic a little in the last post. I didn't get around to asking if this means banning MacDonalds? And sugar? (it is amazingly detrimental to health).

I haven't even seen "Super Size Me" yet (any recommendations folk?), but I'm pretty sure a regular Big Mac will go down as attempted suicide in a new State Charter for Individuals.

Maybe a ticketing system to limit visits to MacDonals? Fairer still: submit to a BMI and cholesterol reading before eating, and have enforced appointments at a gym perhaps?

What checks and balances do you envisage to prevent some-one from accusing you as being mentally insane and having you locked up?

Funnily enough, in Australia recently, a psychiatric patient claimed she was from Germany, without a visa. Australia has a very firm tradition of locking those kind of people up. So they did. In solitary confinement.

Problem was, she was a mental patient. They said they interviewed her (extensively) and pronounced her sane. The tragedy was, that without her medicine, solitary confinement was the WORST thing to do to her, due to the nature of her problem.

Does the State always know best? 

Posted by ZenTiger
3/07/2005 07:45:00 am  
I am working on something at the moment, Greg, and don't have the time to put together a response now. But, I disagree with you here and will get back to this later.  

Posted by Dianne
3/07/2005 09:25:00 am  
I'm fine with disagreement within the left. I have no choice over these topics, they are given to me by the Salient  editor (student magazine, this is a column for it).

The checks and balances essentially comes down to science, and I know science is a bit iffy sometimes (such as the smoking is good for you thing). But these days it tends to be alright

"Newspapers and media tend to be biased one way or another" yes of course they are, but I would never insist on regulating those as they are needed for the operation of democracy. I think they should be upfront about where they stand, rather than claim they are 'fair and balanced' but are not.

McDonalds and sugar. No. why? because they do have benefits. smoking does not. they should have information campaigns around the risks of too much, but cannot be banned. also regulation to reduce fat content (esp in Big Macs).

"Funnily enough, in Australia recently, a psychiatric patient claimed she was from Germany, without a visa. Australia has a very firm tradition of locking those kind of people up. So they did. In solitary confinement.

Problem was, she was a mental patient. They said they interviewed her (extensively) and pronounced her sane. The tragedy was, that without her medicine, solitary confinement was the WORST thing to do to her, due to the nature of her problem."
-Firstly it was Australia, secondly systems did not work which didn'k work because of slack behaviour by staff. thirdly, the service there has been underfunded due to cuts in funding from the rightwing Howard government. 

Posted by Greg Stephens
3/07/2005 10:03:00 am  
Pressed into slavery for the Student's of Victoria U. Not a bad punishment for a leftie. Actually, now that I think of it, probably a badge of honour. Just remember, many of these minds are fresh from state school - already indoctrinated into specific patterns of thinking, and barely able to conduct logical analysis based on independent thought. And that's just the Professors!

And now my Libertarian Rhetoric (and while I’m on the subject, have you visited Political Compass (politicalcompass.org) to get not only your left-right wing quotient but your authoritarian-libertarian grading? You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.

Once upon a time you said…”science…tends to be alright”. Have you not seen the film Alien? Those buggers were a gene splicing experiment gone wrong. That was a DOCUMENTARY. True. I'm sure Dianne will back me up on this one.

Science is always pushing the boundaries. From the time Galileo announced the Earth revolved around the Sun (one man’s opinion against society, state and church. Yay for majority rule. Let’s agree he WAS crazy and should have been locked up and books burned) to 1995 when Australian Scientists accidentally released the calcivirus before finishing tests to see if it would affect Koalas and other native Aussie Fauna. “Oops – so sorry, but she’ll be right mate.”

Today, scientists continue to experiment with genetic engineering, creating race based viruses, new poisons and even toy with anti-matter: “yes, it was theoretically possible we could blow up the entire universe, let alone the planet – but phew, it hasn’t happened. Got a cool experiment next week though!”

Loved the closing arguments (LOL): “Firstly it was Australia”. Yep, that works for me. Secondly, slack staff – yep, but we know NZ Government has dedicated staff that cannot be corrupted and always formulates good policy. I was really only worried from the point of view that NZ may decide to become a State of Australia. And underfunded: Yep, not a problem in NZ: we have a 6 billion dollar surplus and have just raised taxes. Pity the hospital waiting lists are at their worst ever.

Hmm, does that count? The government should STOP the individual hurting themselves by allowing them to go on a medical waiting list with the expectation that the government health system will actually operate on them before they die: better to be up front and say “belief that we will look after you is bad for your health. Do something else NOW or we will lock you up for flagarant disregard for your own safety by trusting in us”

Kinda makes sense now… 

Posted by ZenTiger
3/07/2005 11:23:00 am  
Woooaaaahhh!!! Greg, what have you been smoking lately? You know it's bad for your health, don't you? :-)

Ok, while I agree our gov should inform  us of health hazards, I entirely disagree with its role to oblige us to live "healthily".

1. It's completely irrealistic. Even for things as clear-cut as smoking which, as you rightly point out, have nothing "good" about them. Lots of ppl die of lung cancer due to smoking. But lots don't. So what is a health danger for some is not necessarily so for others. What's the gov supposed to do? Allow some ppl to smoke and deny others? Under what criteria? Or ban it altogether because some ppl die from it?

Individuals are by nature very different from each other. It's part of our great bio-diversity. We are not clones/replicas. Each of us has different requirements to "maximize" our health. It is clearly impossible for a gov to go study each individual's profile and decide what's best for him/her.

2. The implications are, to say the least, frightening. Ok, we are not allowed to smoke any longer because it is *deemed* bad for our health. What about the amount of food we eat each day? Is the number of calories per day going to be dictated? I mean eating too much can lead to cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks, right? So are we going to have gov specified menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner? What about ppl like me who only eat once a day? Am I going to be forced to eat 2 more meals each day?

Are we going to be prohibited from driving cars because car accidents are the number one cause of death here, and thus clearly bad for our health? Also, all plants should be banned since millions of ppl have chronic allergic reactions to pollens and many die from it. Hell, might as well ban all furry animals like cats since my ex-wife nearly died of an asthma attack cuddling one. Should old ladies with fragile bones be prohibited from getting out of their apartments so that they won't trip over in the stairs or in the street and need a hip operation?

3. I believe it's morally wrong. If I choose not to live in the healthiest possible way, it's my choice and should remain so. If ppl who have allergies to fur chose to have a pet and put their life in danger, it should remain their decision - they may have an allergy attack, but on the other hand, the company of their pet might save them from requiring psychiatry therapy.

Information and education?  YES.
Control of our individual lives? Hell, fucking NO.

Tough if it puts an extra burden on our health care system. It's part of the deal by which each of us at one time or another, not to mention constantly, fails to maximize our chances of staying healty, and thus increase our chances of requiring hopitalizing or other costly health care. It's all part of the big picture. *YOU* might require a hip operation, *I* might require a lung cancer one. Hell, I'm paying some 90% tax on each pack of cigarettes, and that, I believe, is enough a penalty to give me the right to smoke and be treated down the line if needed.

4. Let's be realistic: most ppl would rather NOT be in hospital having lung cancer, nor jumping off briges, or eating themselves to death, etc. We all, to various extents, fail to live the healthiest possible way, and thus fail to minimize our burden on our free health system. So what? We all contribute and it averages out.

5. Lastly the main point.... but since this is already 1/2 a novel, I'll post it in a separate comment :-) 

Posted by WhyNot
3/07/2005 02:18:00 pm  
I remember when Clinton raised taxes on cigerettes. I was enraged not only at the idea of governmental moral judgement but the injustice of the tax. It's quite handy raising the taxes on something you don't participate in. I wondered why they didn't raise the taxes on alcohol consumption something that causes not only disease but many vehicular accidents and deaths and disputes that lead to so many things I won't mention them here.

Obesity will bring death quicker in most cases than cigerettes will. People may not like the idea of that but it's true.

These stats were taken quickly from different places but they all seemed to be saying the same thing so I didn't spend a lot of time verifying what I know already to be the truth. Fat kills in many ways. The following are US statistics because that's what Google gives me. I'm not picking on the US.

58 Million Overweight; 40 Million Obese; 3 Million morbidly Obese

What is the cost of overweight and obesity?

Total cost: $117 billion , Direct cost: $61 billion,

* Indirect cost: $56 billion (comparable to the economic costs of cigarette smoking)

*A recent study estimated annual medical spending due to overweight and obesity to be as much as $92.6 billion in 2002 dollars (9.1 percent of U.S. health expenditures).

What are the health risks of being overweight or obese? Approximately 280,000 adult deaths in the country are attributed to obesity annually, compared to 35,000 deaths due to guns, and 25,000 deaths due to auto accidents, hence the foods we eat by our own selection or choosing kill far more of us than guns and automobiles combined. Overweight individuals have an increase risk of developing one or more of the following conditions: Heart disease and stroke, hypertension, non-insulin dependent or type 2 diabetes, osteo-arthritis, sleep apnea and other breathing problems. Others health problems of overweight include cancer of the uterus, cervix, ovary, breast, colon, rectum, and prostate. High blood cholesterol, menstrual irregularities, gall bladder disease, stress incontinence or urine leakage and depression are also associated with obesity. Social problems associated with obesity in America include low self-esteem, less social desirability, and a tendency to be considered being of low socioeconomic status.

What to do about these people Greg? Why is it always cigerettes that are the first thing talked about when it comes to heath risk? I am 54 years old. I have been smoking since I was 14. Last year I became sick with the flu and it developed into bronchitis. While checking me over it was found I had minor asthma and was sent to a specialist for test. He was remarkably surprised at my breathing capacity and the health of my lungs in spite of all these years of smoking. Of course, he said to me things could only get worse but hell, I've been smoking for 40 years without major complications. An obese person or an alcoholic will have problems way before that.

My conclusion or point: When will they start taxing fat? It's not fair for me to be taxed extra because I smoke. What sin/habit do you have Greg that the govenment may decide is not good for society? It's only when our own toes get stepped on that we holler 'ouch!' Cigerettes cost me so much now (France) I have to travel to Italy to buy them. I buy in bulk so I don't have return for a few months. Therefore, the French government loses the profit. I'm sorry about this, but $5.00 a pack at a pack a day is not even in my budget.


Posted by Dianne
3/07/2005 04:43:00 pm  
"(and while I’m on the subject, have you visited Political Compass (politicalcompass.org) to get not only your left-right wing quotient but your authoritarian-libertarian grading? You show me yours and I’ll show you mine. "

I did this one some time ago. I don't remember the actual numbers but I do remember I was in very close position with Ghandi whom is good company I think. :)

Posted by Dianne
3/07/2005 06:08:00 pm  
"Have you not seen the film Alien? Those buggers were a gene splicing experiment gone wrong. That was a DOCUMENTARY. True. I'm sure Dianne will back me up on this one.  "

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to agree with. Alien is one of my favorite science fiction series, but I'm not sure I would view it as a documentary. I do believe what Greg's post proposes will do a great deal to bring us closer to the world of science fiction. 

Posted by Dianne
3/07/2005 06:34:00 pm  
""Newspapers and media tend to be biased one way or another" yes of course they are but I would never insist on regulating those  ",

Absolutely: we've seen such pityful examples as The Pravda in ex USSR and now Faux News in the US which while not officially being a gov media, can't even get its undies on every morning without the approval of the White House.

On the other hand, we must not confuse "gov controlled" and "gov funded".

For instance, in the 3 countries I've spent most of my life in, i.e. Australia, France and the US, one thing is clear: France's and Australia's gov funded TV networks (ABC in Australia, France 2/France 3/ARTE in France) clearly give the most impartial news, as well as quality programs such as in-depth documentaries and current affairs that actually are  current affairs programs rather than 5 minute brain-dead CNN overviews-for-dummies who can't sustain watching TV for more than 5 minutes if there isn't a car chase.

And while I never lived in the UK, it is clear that the BBC is in the same league. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/07/2005 07:30:00 pm  
OK- well firstly it is of something i know/care little. Secondly I have to write 900 words on that. It is an argument from the left , it is not to reflect my personal opinion (the social liberal issues will really screw to guy writing from the right as he has to go all conservative yet he is very socially liberal). My personal position is that education is the biggest step forward and, on top of that, one person's decision to f**k up their health should not effect the health of others (so smoking in pubs becomes a no-no).
But I also think that there must be drawn a line somewhere. Heroine is illegal, cigarettes are not. The line has been drawn based upon the social acceptance of the drug. Is that right? Should all drugs thus be legal/illegal?
Regulation of fat contents is something I support. Prehaps through taxes, or product messaging (like on cigarettes with the 'SMOKING KILLS' messages). But limiting it is not something I aim for.

While the column was not clear (it is hard to write on an issue you don't really care about in a short amount of time), I mainly think that social advertising will be enough. There are going to be products which are clearly in need of banning (hard core drugs). And the column was not solely on cigarettes either, it was about drugs in general as well. 

Posted by Greg Stephens
3/07/2005 11:38:00 pm  
" one person's decision to f**k up their health should not effect the health of others (so smoking in pubs becomes a no-no). "

I agree and have never had a problem with taking my nasty habit outside.

"Should all drugs thus be legal/illegal?"

I won't go into the reasons I believe this now, but pot should be legalized. I also think codeine should be made excessible over the counter or at least made available through a pharmacist without one having to go to a doctor. 

Posted by Dianne
3/08/2005 07:52:00 am  
Well pot is a hard one for me. While it is a drug, it does provide a high effect, it is also has some major negatives. A friend of mine saw 'God' while smoking up, he is now majorly odd. It is something that I am unsure of, at really don't know about anymore, for until then I was 100% in favour of decriminalisation (not legalisation). 

Posted by Greg Stephens
3/08/2005 08:09:00 am  
"so smoking in pubs becomes a no-no "

I agree there. But this is an entirely different story to telling ppl how to run their own lives. It brings up the fundamental principle by which there is no absolute freedom, i.e. person X's freedom clearly suffers when person Y infringes on it.

The "no smoking zones in public places" is only too right. Why should someone else be at risk of lung cancer because of my smoking? It is in the same category as "speed limit at 50km/h in town", or "driving on the correct side of the road". But "no smoking zone in your own private domain"? No way! Same with speed limits in one's backyard. 

Posted by WhyNot
3/08/2005 08:34:00 am  
There are plenty of reasons for the government to prevent people from harm to themselves such as smoking... if a person smokes and as a result gets cancer it puts strain on the economy directly and indirectly.

Lets not forget that people dont need to smoke... they are often brainwashed into smoking though advertising when they are young. 

Posted by WilliamVolterman
3/08/2005 11:56:00 pm  
William what do you do that the government might view as harmful?

Did you read my post? It's very easy to come down on habits or acts that you don't participate in.  

Posted by Dianne
3/09/2005 11:50:00 am  



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