Liberty and Responsibility

There’s so much conversation about individual liberty being trampled these days. Personally I’m not feeling it myself but you hear a lot about it from conservatives and libertarians. Health care reform is discussed this way, so are things like helmet laws, financial deregulation, etc. All of these – and more – are presented as examples of the government overstepping its bounds and stopping people from doing the things their way.

Last night I was watching Frontline’s program The Vaccine War. It was excellent – using published research from around the world to debunk the alleged connect between vaccines and autism. Toward the end there was a public health official speaking with several mothers who had opted not to have their children vaccinated. He raised the question – what if your choice not to vaccinate results in illness for a child that cannot be vaccinated?

The response was that they were responsible parent and wouldn’t let their child be around other kids if they were sick. The public health official pointed out the often people are capable of transmitting an illness before they show any symptoms. To which there really was no very effective response.

There ought to be some mechanism for people to exercise their desired level of freedom while still assuming responsibility for their actions. This mechanism ought to be onerous enough to force people think hard about the potential consequences of their decisions.

My thought is that anyone wishing to exercise their “full freedom” sign an affidavit stating they understand that they will be held personally liable for any consequences of their actions. For example, if someone wishes to ride a motorcycle without a helmet they would be financially responsible for the cost of the emergency services and/or treatment to the extent it isn’t covered by their insurance.

Or if a child becomes ill as the result of exposure to a disease carried by an unvaccinated person that person (or their legal guardians) would be held responsible for any cost associated with treatment. This responsibility could be guaranteed by agreeing to a lien on any property or through the purchase of supplemental insurance to cover the potential outcome of their actions.

This would give people the freedom to act as they desire without placing the burden of the results of their actions on others. It irritates me that people want to have their cake and eat it too. It would annoy me less if they were forced to pay for the cake (and its consequences).


3 thoughts on “Liberty and Responsibility

  1. This is how it should be anyway, without the need for a silly affidavit for responsibility. Your post would be 100% true-to-life if it weren’t for government regulations demanding taxpayers pay for emergency services and that hospitals treat everyone regardless of ability to pay.

    It sounds really cold, but if your goal is personal responsibility, then that is by definition what you get. It sucks to own up to your mistakes, but that’s the point, they were your mistakes, and you should learn from them.

    Name me one single problem with ‘excessive freedom,’ and I will show you a failure of government which positively influenced the bad decision, failed to punish the decision once made, or outright demanded the excess in the first place.

    Riding without a helmet? Outcome: you are severely injured or die, and taxpayers (via hospitals) are forced to pay for it. Don’t mandate that hospitals cover those without insurance or other ability to pay. Problem solved.

    Child is not vaccinated? Outcome: Child becomes sick, and dies. Parent already has to live with it the rest of their lives, and unless a judge somehow finds the Doctor guilty of ‘allowing’ her to not vaccinate the child in the subsequent lawsuit, there is really no other possible negative, because those vaccinated will be so protected against the disease, and hospitals (per the above paragraph) are not required to cover the child unless they want to, at their own expense, and to their own extent.

    Again, I truly urge you to find other examples of ‘excessive freedom’, because it is a personal passion of mine to debunk any possibility that ‘excessive freedom’ even exists, much less that it is in any way common now.

    • Thanks for the response.

      I do think that the case of vaccinations may provide an example since electing not to vaccinate doesn’t only impact the unvaccinated child but potentially others who are also unvaccinated (due to age since many early childhood vaccinations need to be done at different points during a child’s first year).

      As to regulations requiring treatment without prior proof of insurance or ability to pay, it’s hard to imagine a way to do away with that entirely. It could happen that someone is injured while alone (mugged and shot for example, leaving them unconscious without any identification); to decline treatment would be wrong in that situation.

      Even in the case of helmetless riders, fine, say they don’t get treatment and are left to die on the scene. Who’s going to clean up the mess? Who repairs any damage done? These are costs that need to be borne by someone.

      If one does want to exercise personable responsibility that’s totally cool – but make sure you have the personal resources to cover the consequences.

      • Those not vaccinated could sue the parent of the non-vaccinated child for the cost of their sickness. The same could be said for the ‘cleanup costs’ on someone’s death/damage; especially if government agencies are the ones doing the cleanup. They have absolutely no unwillingness to get back what is theirs, and they have much more nearly-unlimited resources with which to pursue those funds.

        If the accident happened by a business, and government wasn’t in charge of the cleanup, it would make business sense for those involved to clean it up and avoid lost business due to inability to access the business, or even just looking terrible and turning away customers. It would likely become covered by most business insurance policies, or at least become covered by the price system (prices rise to cover costs of area cleanup events), and still arguably be less costly than a full-time ambulatory/police/fire system, all of which are used at accidents in our area involving a death.

        If it is private property that is damaged, that’s what we have homeowners/auto insurance for – the unforeseen. This is also covered by mandatory insurance for those driving. If they still don’t have insurance, which many do not, again, that’s what having your OWN insurance is for, the unforeseen. Whether it be medical or property, it’s called insurance for a reason.

        If you don’t want to pay for it, fine, but when someone crashes into your house, don’t expect anyone else to pay for its repairs. Again, that’s hardly excessively free, it’s a common-sense way of helping to protect your property in a free society.

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