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How to Solve the Campus Rape Crisis: Lower the Drinking Age

A lower drinking age might curb alcohol excess and sexual assault.

NeighborsNeighbors / YoutubeLong have feminists warned that an epidemic of rape was spreading across American college campuses. Their concerns are eminently questionable—many experts who have examined the statistics believe rape is as uncommon on campus as it is everywhere else—but have nevertheless drawn the backing of governments, including the Obama administration and the state legislature of California. The latter has responded by passing SB 967, the "Yes Means Yes" bill, which will force university administrators to police intimate moments between students.

By tilting the burden of proof against the accused, the law will likely produce more accusations of rape, more rape convictions under due-process-free judiciary proceedings, and ultimately, more lawsuits. Since its most pronounced effect is to make sex more burdensome and hazardous, it's no wonder that some social conservatives have joined the far left in cheering its passage (the sexual revolution is being undone before their very eyes). But it's doubtful that the law will actually deter rape.

In his ludicrous defense of "Yes Means Yes," Vox Editor-in-Chief Ezra Klein accepted all these criticisms while still insisting that the campus rape problem is so serious that government action is required—even if that action constitutes passage of "a terrible law" (Klein's words). But why settle for a "terrible law" that comes with serious drawbacks and might not even impact sexual assault rates?

As it turns out, there is something state and national governments could do to combat the campus sexual assault crisis: lower the federally-mandated drinking age of 21.

What does the drinking age have to do with campus rape? Much. Most college undergraduates are under 21 and therefore unable to legally drink. And yet heavy alcohol consumption on the part of one or both students is a significant factor in nearly all sexual assault allegations. That's because the current drinking age doesn't actually stop teens from drinking. It merely changes where, and how much, they drink.

People who reach their 21st birthday may enjoy the right to drink casually: out in the open, during the day, at bars and restaurants, or anywhere else. But underage students who want to drink must take their chances in less socially regulated environments, like a friend of a friend's dorm room, the basement of an older student's house, or a fraternity party. Fraternities, in particular, offer dangerous drinking scenes for the underaged. Since any amount of alcohol is illegal for underage students, they are averse to holding their drink without immediately downing it. Teens who never learned to drink leisurely—and have strong incentive to get drunk as quickly as possible—are throwing back shots and accepting red solo cups from strangers in dark fraternity basements and bedrooms. This environment fuels blackout binge drinking. And in the haze of alcohol-induced incapacitation, misinterpreted sexual cues, regret-filled couplings, and yes, outright rape, occur most frequently.

The National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 (NMDAA), which compelled states to restrict alcohol consumption to the over-21 crowd, is to blame.

This argument will seem counter-intuitive to some—could lowering the drinking age really spell safer drinking? But, as libertarians know, the government produces curious and unintended consequences when it unilaterally bans things. It is widely accepted that Prohibition increased criminal activity, both by turning regular drinkers into criminals and by driving alcohol distribution and consumption underground, into more dangerous spheres of influence. Prohibition on college campuses has the same effect: It herds underage drinkers into risky situations.

A movement does exist to persuade lawmakers that the current drinking age isn't working and is arguably making matters worse. The Amethyst Initiative, a petition that asks Congress to revisit NMDAA, currently boasts 136 college presidents as signatories.

According to a recent Reason-Rupe survey, a majority of millennials support lowering the drinking age, as do most Democrats. Republicans also want to ditch the current drinking age, though conservatives support it.

Last May, Mary Kate Cary—a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush—proposed a lower drinking age as a logical step to address the campus rape problem:

Lowering the drinking age will help slow the need for pregaming and bring the college fake ID business to a dead stop. It can't help but reduce the binge drinking, drug overdoses and sexual assaults.

Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist and senior fellow at the Cato Institute, told Reason that he didn't know of any empirical research to support the claim that a lower drinking age would decrease sexual assault. He agreed it was plausible that the current drinking age promoted binge drinking and associated social ills, though whether the effect was statistically significant is unknown, he said. In any case, Miron is "totally against" the current drinking age, given that it undermines local autonomy and has been largely ineffective at reducing drunk driving, he has argued.

Giving 18-year-olds back the right to drink alcohol is a worthy libertarian goal in and of itself. If lowering the drinking age had a negligible impact on the campus rape crisis, it would be worth pursuing anyway.

But, as The New York Times' Ross Douthat noted recently, blackout drinking is undeniably the common factor in sexual assault cases. Lowering the drinking age, he wrote, would mitigate "the key problem in college sexual culture... binge drinking, which is more likely to happen when a drinking culture is driven underground."

And as Ezra Klein wrote, any policy is worth trying as long as it aspires to reduce rape. The libertarian policy of restoring sanity to teen alcohol consumption certainly seems more likely to succed at that goal than the far-left progressive (and socially conservative) policy of convicting students for violating antiquated Victorian sexual norms. Lowering the drinking age will yield positive results for a free society, even if it fails to significantly curtail rape. "Yes Means Yes," on the other hand, will be disastrous for a free society—and it won't do a thing to prevent rape.

Activists are trying to turn the clock back 200 years on sexual norms. Instead, they should join libertarians in the year 1983, when the law last encouraged teenagers to imbibe responsibly.

Photo Credit: Neighbors / Youtube

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  • Notorious G.K.C.||

    "Robby Soave: A Libertarian Answer to the Campus Rape Crisis"

    Stay in your dorm room and polish your monocle.

  • Paul.||

    Robby Soave: A Libertarian Answer to the Campus Rape Crisis

    Admit that it's not a crisis at all?

  • jdgalt||

    Admit that the real "crisis" is not that one in five coeds gets raped (they don't) but that femi-nazis demand the power to prosecute their partners after hooking up when they regret having agreed to it.

  • Catatafish||

    "...accepting red solo cups from strangers in dark fraternity basements and bedrooms."

    (Cue nefarious musical score)

  • Hillary's Clitdong||

    Or get rid of federal student loans and change the bankruptcy law to allow private student loans to be dischargeable in bankruptcy. You'll see much tighter lending standards in that scenario; no bank in their right mind is going to loan $200,000 to some 18-year-old who "just wants the college experience". Lenders might actually do things like demand that students maintain a high GPA and pursue a marketable major, which tends to cut down a bit on the partying. Plus lenders are going to be very cautious about lending to people who can't master the idea of consent, since those people have a change of ending up in prison or expelled, which substantially reduces the chance of the lender getting its money back.

  • ant1sthenes||

    Wait, I thought the libertarian answer was to trot out the epidemic of rapist cops to make the police state part of the war on women.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Psychopaths don't have to drink wrongly to rape evilly.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    How to solve the Campus Rape Crisis? Learn to ignore Feminists, who have peddled one fake anti-woman panic after another for the last several decades. They lie as constantly and badly as the KKK< and print as much Hate crap. They should be allowed to subside to the fringes of society with the Neo-Nazis, the Illuminati Believers, the Area 51 Freaks, and so forth, where they belong.

  • PM||

    As a Nevadan, I am deeply offended that you would include Area 51 freaks in the same group as feminists and neo-nazis.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    As an Area 51 prisoner and experimental subject, I am deeply offended that you include me in the same group as Nevadans.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    I'm sorry, but the notion that our blundering government could have alien spacecraft AND KEEP THE FACT SECRET is absurd.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    You fool!!!! You have fallen into the trap of assuming the government controls Area 51! It is MY race who controls your government there, and I am a prisoner entirely because I try to leak the truth to your investigative newspapers like the National Enquirer, only to have them shut down by your bungling government!!!

  • GILMORE||

    Frankly I'm hoping Ebola wipes out a few million people just so "Generation Bedwetting"-millenials shut the fuck up about their perpetual-crises for a minute

  • Paul.||

    A letter to the Land Use Commission will cure all ills.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    If a dude is a newbie and smashed on Jack and rapes a lady I'd call this a really fucking sad crime. For the lady and the smashed fucker.

    Drugs and alcohol really do need to be experimented with (if one is so inclined to the worldly aspects). They both have a significant learning curve that experience can provide something of a barrier for.

    Drink your first half bottle of jack with friends you trust. NEVER do mushrooms in a crowd. Don't get too fucking high at the mall for the first time. DO NOT drop acid anywhere near church. There are lots of ways to live high and fucked up without driving your truck into a building and raping the man or woman next door. It's called experience and knowing when and how to drink or get high.

  • Geoff Nathan||

    You left out the most important thing that needs to be experimented with: sex. And it's exactly because early sex (i.e. the first few times it happens--keep your minds out of the sewers!) is experimental and scary (to the participants) the feds really need to back off the rape claims.

    It's not rape when neither partner really knows what they're doing, or is totally sure whether they should be doing it in the first place. And that's what most first times are like (not that I remember that terribly well--and I wasn't even drunk...)

  • Agile Cyborg||

    Well, dear, sex ain't a drug, per se'. Pedants are driving me craz-craz.

    On another note: you are el correcto. Lots of wisdom in your post.

    I agree with you 100%.

  • BYODB||

    Apparently 18 is a perfectly rational age to train and arm people for war but is absolutely too young to trust with alcohol consumption.

    We still need to register for Selective Service, but even without that requirement you just need to be 18 to sign up and serve in any military branch here in these United States.

    Not to mention in the 1970's the legal drinking age was 18. After all, as soon as you turn that magical age you are suddenly an adult in all ways except for your ability to drink right?

    Ludicrous.

  • The Bearded Hobbit||

    Exactamundo.

    And remember, it was Saint Ronnie Raygun who put the stake in the heart of *that* bit of States Rights.

    ... Hobbit

  • Thomas O.||

    Lowering the drinking age to 18 (or hey, even 17) makes sense for this reason: Parents would be more compelled to teach their kids about responsible drinking since they would hit the magic imbibing age while still under their roof, instead of leaving that up to the more questionable rituals of college parties and older friends that they have little to no control over.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    17, with parental permission. Enlistment that is.

  • Dread Pirate Roberts||

    We also believe that 18 is old enough to vote. But it's not old enough to buy yourself a beer.

  • jdgalt||

    Actually, soldiers can already drink at 18, on base.

  • workingforleviathan||

    false

  • morganovich||

    while i think this whole campus rape issue is wildly overblown and the solutions being implemented ridiculous and also agree we should have a lower drinking age, it's not going to reduce sexual assault.

    it sure didn't in the uk or australia.

    once you have a binge drinking culture, you have a binge drinking culture.

    a lower drinking age in those countries has not helped and their drinking behavior more closely resembles the US than any others i can think of.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    The Lord will help with all the excess. You should be spending time praying rather than commenting.

  • The Laconic||

    Those same points were made when they were debating extended pub hours in the UK. One side argued that because of the longer hours, people wouldn't be obligated to get the drinks in so fast, etc. The other side argued it wouldn't change anything because binging was now the culture.

    And I find that more plausible. Which makes it all the more dangerous to enact such laws (high drinking age, restricted pub hours) in the first place. The law may be repealed, but the culture has evolved perversely in the meantime, and culture is harder to change.

  • jdgalt||

    It might help to have a less overbearing government. Russia's alcoholism certainly got worse as the Soviet Union got more severe, and again when Putin replaced Yeltsin.

  • Brandon||

    Universal concealed carry.

  • Knarf Yenrab!||

    I strongly recommend constitutional carry laws as a social-justice solution to all of society's ills, from income inequality to global warming.

    It's the progressive thing to do.

  • Stodgers||

    Your comments about fraternities are generalized, misplaced and rather selective. I was in a fraternity and though, yes, heavy drinking was common, we were by no means considered a threat to women. In fact, women would say they felt comfortable inviting their family there. On the other hand, women would say how they openly feared attending hockey team parties because of the treatment, and propensity for violence. And I would bet you that way more sexual assaults occur from barroom hookups than have ever occurred in the walls of a fraternity house. It's just a lot harder to call that a systemic issue since you can't blame a collective institution.

    As for lowering the drinking age, the article doesn't seem to say to *what* age? Because only by getting it to 16 or lower do you cure the problem of developing responsible drinking habits *before* college.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    what* age?

    18.

    Dummy.

  • ilikesoup||

    I 100% agree with this comment. I had the same experience in a fraternity in college. Also a Fraternity is an institution that has accountability. If they are raping women there are more consequences than if just some random guy in some random house rapes someone. I have always felt MUCH safer at a fraternity party than any random house party for a number of reasons. Every large fraternity party I've been to has sober rides, sober people running security, and people checking IDs (at least to make sure they're in college).

  • angus||

    By tilting the burden of proof against the accused, the law will likely produce more accusations of rape, more rape convictions under due-process-free judiciary proceedings, and ultimately, more lawsuits.

    Slowly moving towards the ultimate objective of making rape profitable?

  • KRoyall||

    Lowering the drinking age would prevent campus rape? No. Libertarians once again prove their idiocy.

  • Knarf Yenrab!||

    Shhhh.

  • The Laconic||

    Oh. He said no. Thus ends the discussion.

  • Migrant Log Picker||

    And a new troll aspires to new trolldom...golf clap.

  • Knarf Yenrab!||

    And as Ezra Klein wrote, any policy is worth trying as long as it aspires to reduce rape.

    This is antithetical to every ounce of political wisdom that libertarianism has imparted (or should have imparted) to the political world over the past fifty years.

    There may be good empirical, utilitarian, and ethical arguments for reducing the drinking age, but "aspiring to reduce rape" isn't one of them.

  • The Laconic||

    Ezra Klein is functionally retarded.

    Are we going to pretend now that it's the intention that matters and not the actual consequences?

  • Tamfang||

    Let us charitably assume that the author misunderstands the word aspires.

  • angus||

    yes means yes to bad sex?

  • The Laconic||

    Rico...

    Soave!

  • Richard Fitzwell||

    If any other business in the US harmed 20% of their female clientele the government would seize all assets and jail CEOs.

    Why is our government promoting, nay even providing loan money, to young Adult women and men to attend these putrid pools of disrepute? Does the government want Our Girls to suffer these disgraceful attacks?

    Shut. Down. The. College. Rape. Factories.

    #ShutDowntheRapeFactories

    http://wp.me/p31sf8-1cC

  • Johnx||

    I think this is a good idea. It is this type of forward thinking that should be applied to Marijuana and drugs too.Treat adults like adults and they will act accordingly;treat adults like children and repress them, and they will revolt by emotionally "exploding" and overindulging.

  • ConstitutionFirst||

    Counting on an overworked barkeep will only give you so much protection.
    What if someone else is buying her drinks?
    Experience comes with over-drinking once (or fifty) times, some people just can't handle alcohol.
    At some point, responsibility lays with the student.
    You get out-of-control, you risk someone taking advantage of you, why put yourself there?
    Yes, rape is wrong, it's also a risk that is as old as history.
    Again, why put yourself in a compromised position?
    The world can't and shouldn't attempted to be made safe for irresponsible behavior.

  • Federale||

    Sorry, there is no campus rape crisis. The statistics are fraudulent. There is no problem to solve, but once someone is 18, they are adults and should have all the rights of adults.

  • SomebodySmart||

    When a mother sells her daughter to a rapist for cocaine money, the mother is only following the example of State legislators who sell the freedom of Mr. and Mrs. Twenty to Congress for highway money. The outvoted discrimination victims do not get anything from that bribe. They don't get the kickbacks from highway contractors. They don't get to buy votes by doling out cushy jobs to the powerful labor unions. Why should they care if the State loses millions of highway dollars? Rest assured that they can figure out why so many voters and politicians would rather punish them for drinking alcohol responsibly than impose tougher DWI laws on the hypocrites themselves.

  • SomebodySmart||

    One largely overlooked angle is the hate-mongering MADD bigots who are so angry at the drunk driver who hit their family member, and the MADD bigot cannot live with the memories of driving after a few drinks in the past. Telling off the criminal in court during a Victim Impact Statement, knowing they are also speaking about themselves, is heartbreaking. They watch the defendant getting handcuffed and led to prison and cannot help pondering, "There, but by the grace of God, go I." They want to pretend it's not their own fault that they drove drunk. They want to pretend it was the fault of a society that was tolerant of underage drinking, so they can be different by not being tolerant of underage drinking.

  • SomebodySmart||

    Johnny is at a high school graduation kegger, depressed because of the terrible disease he has. He thinks he is the only one in the graduating class still suffering from virginity, and he wonders if he will ever get cured. A tipsy cheerleader sits down next to him, laughing and cuddling with him. He stands up and takes her by the hand. She is able to stand and walk under her own power. You cannot depend on Johnny to be a judge of her capacity to consent. There is a point where YES means YES. If she gets drunk and gets behind the wheel, and ends somebody's life, or if she gets drunk and gets under the covers and begins somebody's life, it is her choice.

  • SomebodySmart||

    I am not sure the MADD activists realize just how proud they should be of everything they do to prevent underage drinking.

    Adam Lanza was 20 when he shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School. Dzokhar Tsarnaev was 19 when he allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon.

    Just think, had it not been for all that hard work to prevent underage drinking, those poor lads might have DIED of alcohol poisoning. And just look how grateful they were, to live in a country that cares so much about them.

    26 innocent persons were victimized in Newtown. About 200 innocent persons were victimized in Boston. Millions of innocent persons are continuously victimized by the drinking age, a hate crime committed against them by hypocritical bigots who would otherwise have to impose tougher DWI laws on themselves, which would not be fair to the hypocritical bigots, who "can drive better drunk than teenagers can sober."

  • SomebodySmart||

    After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a lot of victims suffered and perished waiting for the National Guard to rescue them. Too many Guardsmen were in Asia fighting unconstitutional wars, but a lot of people simply did not sign up.

    Why should Mr. and Mrs. Twenty join the Louisiana National Guard when Congress and the Louisiana Legislature hate everybody under 21?

    If any hate-mongering MADD bigots suffered and perished for want of soldiers, it was a consequence of their own malicious wrongdoing. It's too bad they were able to take a lot of decent persons with them.

  • SomebodySmart||

    The MADD bigots show their true colors in supporting bills in State legislatures to allow convicted drunk drivers to shorten their suspension times and start driving legally if they get ignition interlocks. The idea is, these devices prevent them from driving drunk.

    So then, what about Mr. and Mrs. Twenty? Could they shorten their second-class citizenship time and start drinking alcohol legally if they get ignition interlocks installed? I mean, if those devices are so-o-o effective, right?

    Oh, no! So intense and deep-rooted is their seething hatred toward every human being under 21 that they could never bring themselves to support such a move. Nay, this life-saving technology is for the benefit of criminals only.

  • SomebodySmart||

    State Legislators’ Message To Underage Drinkers:

    1.) To prevent blood borders, the drinking age in every State has to be 21, because that’s the only integer that is equal to itself.

    2.) Drinking alcohol during pregnancy harms the baby, so we impose Prohibition on men under 21 and not on pregnant women 21 and older.

    3.) A tipsy rape victim will be arrested for internal possession if she calls the police, who are there to protect and serve.

    4.) We jail parents who are home supervising your drinking sessions in order to prevent you from holding such sessions.

    5.) A new scientific study published in the New England Journal of Medicine conclusively establishes that the politicians you voted against have a right to impose this law on you.

    6.) Statistical analysis of historical crash data proves that the United States of America ought not to be a free country, with liberty and justice for all, where the citizen decides what to drink, where parents govern their child who still lives in their house, where the punishment for drunk driving is meted out to the drunk drivers.

    7.) Freeways are more important than freedom, — especially when it’s your freedom, not ours — so we sold your freedom to get more highway construction money from Congress, (like a mother selling her daughter for cocaine money,) and we still expect you to respect this law.

  • SomebodySmart||

    State Legislators’ Message To Underage Drinkers: (cont'd)

    8.) The drinking age saves lives. Of course, we could save a lot more lives, maybe yours, by doing what it takes to eliminate drunk driving, but we’d have to give up driving drunk ourselves, and that’s not fair because we can drive better drunk than teenagers can sober.

    9.) A combination of driving inexperience and alcohol make you a greater danger on the road, whether you drive or not, and that gives us the right to punish you when you drink alcohol, whether you drive or not.

    10.) Don’t drive drunk? We can list some other crimes you never commit, as an excuse to deny liberty to you: murder, rape, assault...

    11.) Everybody who drinks under age is immature and irresponsible because they’re doing something that is illegal, as well it should be, because they’re so immature and irresponsible.

    12.) Liquor corporations have the nerve to advertise their products to you, and we have more respect for their First Amendment right to free speech than we have for your God-given right to drink the beverage of your choice.

    13.) We can’t stop older drunks from freely exercising their right to practice alcoholism, because they hold too much political power, but some of them started as teenagers and never had a chance to quit since then, so we punish you instead.

  • SomebodySmart||

    State Legislators’ Message To Underage Drinkers: (cont'd)

    14.) You shouldn’t destroy your brain while it is only 95 percent developed. You should wait until it is completely developed and then destroy it, like we did.

    15.) Even though this law is imposed on you by morons who cannot see the obvious flaws in these absurd arguments, it is embellished with a fancy seal, and a Governor years ago scribbled his autograph on it, so you have a sacred duty to obey it.

  • SomebodySmart||

    A Better Message To Underage Drinkers

    We tried. We sought to protect you from the serious harm you could inflict on yourself by drinking alcohol. We sought to spare you from experiencing the wretched life of an alcoholic. We endeavoured to stop you from drinking yourself to death.
    At every step, you were bound and determined to defeat our efforts, as if we were your enemy. You accused us of a hate crime.
    You counterfeited our official State identification cards with all the pride of an Underground Railroad worker forging documents to help fugitive slaves pass themselves off as free. We invested in newer technology and you met us, feature for feature. You felt a sense of duty, as if you were a German Underground worker forging passports to help Jews escape from Hitler.
    You traveled to a foreign country during Spring Break for the sole purpose of drinking alcohol where our police, — “enemy officers” you call them — could not touch you, and you cried victory You got even with us by getting drunk, getting sick and getting hangovers.
    Call us naïve, even delusional, but we didn’t expect the hostility you expressed. Many persons your age are okay with the our efforts, but not you. We forgot that each person is a different individual and a distinct transaction. We thought you accepted our reasons for infringing on your inherent natural right to drink the beverage of your choice.

  • SomebodySmart||

    A Better Message To Underage Drinkers (cont'd)

    You accused us of hypocrisy, preferring to impose “second-class citizenship” on you instead of saving more lives on the road by imposing tougher drunk driving measures on ourselves, but we knew it was true. You accused us of selling your freedom to Congress for highway money, asking if we would also sell our daughters to rapists for cocaine money. We routinely get such rhetoric.
    It wasn’t so bad when you sent lawmakers postcards from abroad, with hateful messages. Most politicians are used to that. We thought you were exaggerating when you quoted Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. We were in denial.
    What started to bother us was when you said you would not join the National Guard to protect our lives and property if we wouldn’t even vote to protect your right to liberty. It pained us when you said, quite seriously, that you have resolved you will never render aid to an “enemy officer” in distress.
    The last straw, — our wake-up call — was when you said, “Senator, if you enjoy that warm feeling you get from protecting me, I invite you to pour gasoline all over yourself and light a match. You will get a warmer feeling, and the human race will be better off without you, and your use of gun-toting goons in bulletproof vests as weapons of unprovoked violence, trying to intimidate Mr. and Mrs. Twenty into abstaining from the beverage of their choice.”

  • SomebodySmart||

    A Better Message To Underage Drinkers (cont'd)

    We give up. You win. Our limited resources will be better spent protecting other persons. You’d just drink yourself to death on your 21st birthday anyway, as so many persons have done. If we save your life, you will spend the rest of your life making us wish we hadn’t.
    Sign the attached form, and we’ll give you an ID exempting you from the drinking age. If you’re under 18, your parent must sign, too. The BAC limit is still 0.02% until you’re 21, but we know that’s okay with you, because you said you never drive after drinking. You insist you know what you’re doing, so don’t expect any leniency in court if you break the law.
    Don’t buy for anybody. Why aren’t they exempt, too? Maybe they’re over 18, but not as defiant as you, so why put yourself at risk for those “timid Men, who prefer the Calm of Despotism to the boisterous Sea of Liberty” of whom Jefferson spoke? Maybe they’re under 18 and their parents care about them, and will tell the prosecutor to throw the book at you.
    Except in State-run stores, we won’t make anybody serve you, because you said this should be a free country. When you die, we won’t tax innocent persons to pay for your burial, either. We’ll just find a medical school that will take your body off our hands for free.
    Now you will have nobody to blame but yourself. You stopped us from saving you.

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