In a recent GOP debate, the moderator posed a hypothetical situation to presidential candidate, Dr. Ron Paul: A healthy 30 year old chooses to forgo health insurance and then suffers an expensive, life-threatening medical event. Who pays? Dr. Paul replied, “That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks,” adding that people need to assume responsibility for themselves. Applause of agreement erupted from the audience.
So far so good.
Then came the follow up question: “Are you saying that society should just let them die?” Dr. Paul’s emphatic “No.” was an appropriate but regrettably incomplete response to this crucial question. Many others quickly fell prey to the implicit false alternative presented to Dr. Paul. Two woefully misguided individuals in the audience cried out “Yes [let them die]!” which prompted a storm of accusations from commentators condemning Republicans as cruel and disrespectful of life. The logical fallacy underlying both these reactions is that our only choices are to either (1) force hospitals and doctors to provide care and citizens to purchase insurance, or (2) “Let Them Die.” This erroneously limited view fails to consider the existence of humane, liberty-preserving alternatives. It also ignores the history of increasingly intrusive government actions which have seemingly left us with only these two equally unacceptable choices: government coercion or Let Them Die.