We Ain't Through With You Yet, or, Sunday the Rabbi Wore A Helmet
Newsweek web-exclusive columnist Marc Gellman, last seen in these parts not judging atheists but rather feeling sorry for them, now hunts for smaller game: libertarians who "scream" about helmet laws and such:
What can we learn from the general issue of a person's right to have really dangerous fun? The first philosophical/ethical issue is paternalism. Obviously there are clear ethical limits to what we can decide to do that put other people in danger. Base jumping off the Empire State Building is both illegal and immoral because of the danger posed to innocent bystanders. However, what is the moral calculus of an act that only imperils us personally? "Why," the libertarians scream, "is it the state's business if I want to ride without a helmet? It's my life, it's my head, and it's what's left of my brains. Leave me alone! For the state to pass laws limiting what I can do with or to my own body is paternalism. It is a kind of 'Father knows best' attitude that is both condescending and morally indefensible."
What is the proper response to this initially compelling libertarian argument? One could argue that there is no such thing as a purely self-regarding act. Our life and death affects many people, and in Ben's case, a really good football team, so the idea that he was alone on that bike is a myth.
Religious people, like me, would argue that God owns your body and you are just sort of renting it for the duration of your life and you are thus no more entitled to risk your life than you are entitled to pound nail holes into the walls of a rented apartment.
On the question of God's lease on our bodies, as on so many questions, God chooses to remain silent. As for the human question—the connectedness of our lives and the debts and responsibilities we incur—I'm inclined to agree with the Rabbi. However, I note that the same argument, applied to the question of assisted suicide, would yield different results. A hopeless invalid may well find that ending his or her life will reduce financial and emotional burdens on family and friends and leave them in a better situation than they would be if faced with a lingering death, and the many hardships, guilts, and resentments lingering death would entail. (I do not know what position if any Rabbi Gellman takes on assisted suicide, and am not attempting to impute any position to him.)
Link courtesy of the Artist Formerly Known As Gary Gunnels, now presumably known as Philanthropus Lycanthropus.
Jacob Sullum screams about helmet laws.