If We Can Save Even One Life, Maybe We Shouldn’t

Rob Meyne

  • April 17, 2020
  • 3 min read

Imagine you could time travel back just three months. You’re watching your local news and the reporter says “The governor today issued orders banning church services, golf, eating at restaurants, or assembling in groups of ten or more.” If you value freedom as much as you should, you would have been stopped in your tracks, amazed, rattled, scared, and absolutely certain you heard this wrong. “No,” you would say, “Surely I can’t actually have just heard that church services have been banned. That not only makes no sense, the First Amendment actually guarantees freedom of religion.” You would be right to be outraged. Today, we hear such things daily, and don’t bat an eyelash. Why? Because we’ve been conned into thinking our health is the only thing that matters. Whatever we do to stay safe, we should. Period.

That’s the kind of dreck that is always, not often, always, used to justify governmental intrusion and elimination of freedom. Guess what the people said who implemented apartheid, moved Japanese Americans to internment camps during WWII, massacres in Pol Pot’s Kampuchea, or herded Jews into ovens in Nazi Germany? Right. They said it is in our best interests, one way or another. They said they had good reasons for doing it.

Well, to use a political science term, that’s complete crap. I am probably obliged to say I’m not saying government should do nothing about the virus. What I am saying, and it seems like few others are, is that the benefits of the restrictions need to be evaluated carefully, weighed against the unintended consequences, and it should all be constitutional.

Much of what has happened fails to meet those standards. Can you name five people, GOP or Dem, who’ve said that? For that matter, name one. If you believe we should do anything that could conceivably save even one life you should be prepared to give up your freedom. If potentially saving even one life was justification for restricting freedom, society simply could not function. Period. Lock it up, shut it down, and pray for the rapture to come ASAP.

Do current restrictions on travel and commerce and recreation reduce deaths from coronavirus? Probably. Overall, do they save lives? We don’t know. Freedom, especially economic freedom, increases the quality of life and reduces poverty. How much have we suffered without the ability to promote our own welfare?

Every day, thousands of people have MRIs, CAT scans, X-rays, and non-emergency or elective surgeries. Millions have been prevented or deterred from doing so during this crisis. People can, and do, die because illnesses weren’t caught early enough. It’s inevitable that people will die of afflictions that might have been cursed if they’d been caught earlier. It’s a certainty. Yet those lives are being sacrificed, because we shut down the economy.

Stress, mental illness, physical health, suicide, happiness…all are directly impacted by the shutdown. And there will never be a way to calculate the damage.

We could spend all day listing things we could do that could save lives. But we do not do them. That’s not the way the world works. No single thing, even saving a life, is, in and of itself, a justification for shutting down the economy, banning smoking, outlawing cars, controlling everyone’s diet, locking up people with AIDs, forbidding people with infectious diseases from leaving their home, etc.

There were more than a thousand deaths in 2018 from bicycle accidents. Have you heard any politician advocating banning bikes? Neither have I. People also die from accidental drownings. Yet, is legislation pending to forbid swimming? No.

Tens of thousands die from falling in the tub or shower. Thousands more die from obesity, and almost all of those deaths are preventable. But no one is forcing you to eat better.

Looking at the United States, consider just heart disease, cancer, and pulmonary disease. Together, they amount to about half all deaths.” Then, ask how many of those deaths could be reduced by changes the government can make? All of them.

Yet we haven’t required people to exercise, not smoke, eat less sodium or sugar, give up booze, or have a diet of just alfalfa sprouts and tofu. Why? People probably wouldn’t put up with it. Yet, my sense, based on recent experience, is that it would be far easier for government to get away with it than I would have thought a short while back.

Ben Franklin famously said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” I dearly wish more people today believed that way.

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