Tyler Kepner of the New York Times is apparently a The Public Philosopher reader. His news analysis today, “If Every Player Was Doping, Why Use Asterisks?”, riffs off the moral framework I discussed in my last post on the morality of brain-enhancing drugs (my analysis applies equally to performance enhancing drugs). As the title of his article implies, if everyone was using steroids, there is no issue of unequal advantage. The problem with his analysis is that it looks only at a single slice in time. If everyone was doping today, then my team’s win today may not based on unequal advantage. But baseball records are not usually a current time-slice issue: performance today is compared to performances of the past. If I’m using steroids today, maybe my home run total this season does deserve an asterisk next to Hank Aaron’s totals.
Catching up on an old Wired, I came across this thought-provoking article on whether safe brain-enhancing drugs should be legal. The argument that something should or should not be legal can be based on many factors, but, as always, we’ll consider this from the moral perspective.
There seem to be two main moral arguments against the use of safe brain-enhancing drugs: 1) that there is something inherently wrong with using unnatural enhancements to treat the pathologies of normal life; and 2) that using brain-enhancing drugs is cheating because it creates unfair advantages for users. Read more
Theodore Dalrymple continues the debate regarding whether health care is a right in the WSJ, where he argues in the negative, with one of the strangest moral hazards arguements around:
When the supposed right to health care is widely recognized, as in the United Kingdom, it tends to reduce moral imagination. Whenever I deny the existence of a right to health care to a Briton who asserts it, he replies, “So you think it is all right for people to be left to die in the street?”
When I then ask my interlocutor whether he can think of any reason why people should not be left to die in the street, other than that they have a right to health care, he is generally reduced to silence. He cannot think of one.
One major concern is that when the federal government declares something a right (either explicitly or implicitly), it almost never goes away (i.e. Social Security, etc.)
Social Security struck me as an interesting, albeit incorrect example. Social Security isn’t properly a right. It’s a federal program. The conduct and administration of that federal program is limited by rights (that is, it can’t provide some people with preferential treatment on the basis of race, for example). Rights belong to people, and the government respects and protects them.
Jake’s point may stand. Once we implement a public option or some federally administered healthcare program, it may be hard to retreat, but not impossible.
In fact, this is just what’s at stake in the debate over whether healthcare is a right at all. If it’s not, then healthcare reform could eventually go the way of federal welfare in 1996. But if it is a right, then government provision or protection will need to stick around though thick and thin.
The New York Times Lede blog documents the rise of swine flu screenings of arriving airplane passengers by Chinese authorities. I visited Hong Kong three years ago during the SARS outbreak and remember similar though less intrusive measures. While nothing more than “passive surveillance” is being employed at U.S. borders, it’s not out of the question that health officials would use more intrusive techniques in the face of a widespread health pandemic here. Assuming that such screening techniques work (and it’s not totally clear that they do), the question becomes should they be employed. The choice is clear: do the costs of limiting individual freedom (through mandatory temperature takings or potential forced hospitalization or isolation) outweigh the costs to society (including to individual freedom) of a widespread outbreak. Does it matter whether the people subject to these intrusive techniques are American citizens or not?
A response to the replies…to my response to Jonah Goldberg
I posted yesterday on healthcare and human rights in response to Jonah Goldberg at the National Review. The comments were interesting and I thought I might raise some issues and questions in response. I’ve written before that our collective understanding and agreement on what constitutes a human right is surprisingly limited, given how much moral weight people associate with the term.
1. Negative Rights vs. Positive Rights.
I was trying to argue that the distinction between negative rights (i.e. the right not to have one’s speech abridged) and positive rights (i.e. the provision of something, for example healthcare) isn’t as stark as it seems at first glance. They both require the government to do and not do certain things.
What are Harry Reid’s duties on healthcare?
Writing for Daily Kos, Laura Clawson criticizes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for emphasizing the need to move a healthcare bill to the Senate floor over prioritizing a so-called “public option.” By his own account, Reid has one job above all others:
“But I have a responsibility to get a bill to the Senate floor that will get 60 votes that we can proceed toward.”
“That’s my No. 1 responsibility,” Reid continued, “and there are times I have to set aside my personal preferences for the good of the Senate and I think the country.”
Clawson isn’t convinced:
According to Reid, his responsibility is to get a bill, any bill to the Senate floor that can get 60 votes. Doesn’t matter if the bill does what it needs to do, what the people of this country need it to do. Nope.
This may be a trickier ethical situation than Clawson is willing to admit. Read more
Jonah Goldberg’s confusion
…an official body – staffed with government doctors, actuaries, economists, and other experts – will determine which health-care treatments, procedures, and remedies are cost-effective and which are not. Then it will decide which ones will get paid for and which won’t. Would a 70-year-old woman be able to get a hip replacement, or would that not be considered a wise allocation of resources? Would a 50-year-old man not be permitted an expensive test his doctor wants if the rules say the cheaper, less-thorough one is sufficient?
If so, does it haunt us still?
Over at the Monkey Cage, guest blogger — and political theoriest — Steven Kelts is kicking off a series of posts on whether American libertarianism is finally relinquishing its three decade grip on American politics. I found one passage in particular quite intriguing: Read more
For National Institutes of Health director-nominate Francis Collins, it’s no joke
In a New York Times op-ed, Sam Harris, raises concerns about how Francis Collins, who formerly headed the Human Genome Project and has been nomimated by President Obama to direct the National Institutes of Health, attempts to reconcile his religious faith with his devotion to science.
Only a few years removed from intense national debates over “intelligent design” and teaching evolution in school, the tension between American evangelism and scientific evangelism shows no sign of abating. Now that an ardent Christian and accomplished scientist will take over our government’s leading medical research institution, it’s a good moment to revisit this tension.