Skip to comments.Can Congress Make You Buy Broccoli? (So much for the 1970s mantra of "My body, my choice.")
Posted on 12/31/2010 10:28:05 AM PST by SeekAndFind
Is it constitutional for Congress make you buy broccoli for your own good, ask three professors of health law at Boston University in the New England Journal of Medicine for December 22nd. The ringing answer that they give to this question is We dont know. They have decided to sit on the fence until others, in the shape of the Supreme Court, decide for them.
The Affordable Care Act enjoins millions of citizens to buy private health insurance. The authors say that it is difficult to decide whether refusal to buy such coverage counts as an activity that bears on interstate commerce.
The administration claims that it does. After all, failure to buy insurance has as many economic consequences as does buying it, perhaps even more consequences for third parties. But the problem with this argument is that it is totalitarian in its corollary. Every single decision to purchase or not to purchase something has economic consequences. Prudence in not living above ones means, for example, lessens aggregate demand, at least for a time. Can you therefore be forced to take out a loan to buy something you dont need in order (supposedly) that the economy should revive? This would give monstrous power to legislators, even if, as is impossible, they could be relied upon to use it wisely.
But, replies the administration, health care is different from ordinary products; at some time in his life, everyone will need and use it. For while you can live without a car or a television, you cannot live without health care, at least not your whole life through.
But is this actually true? Insofar as there is no choice in the matter in the immunization of children, for example it is because the law has removed that choice. But there is no reason other than their choice to do so why people should seek medical attention. Indeed, it is now a fundamental principle of medical ethics that no person of sound mind and with the mental capacity to decide for himself may be coerced into medical treatment, even if he will die without it. Every doctor knows of, and has been frustrated by, patients who have refused life-saving treatment.
Besides, other products are much more important in sustaining human life than health care. With a good physical constitution you can live for decades without a doctor; you cannot survive more than a few days without water. Food too is essential, much more essential than medicine. Moreover, if failure to buy health care insurance bears on interstate commerce, so does eating hamburgers instead of broccoli, and this is so even if it subsequently turns out (as has happened many times in the history of nutritional advice) that eating broccoli is bad for you.
The question that the authors ask is whether the Commerce Clause in the Constitution authorizes Congress to require individuals to buy products that Congress thinks they should buy to further the general welfare. To search for a sharp line of demarcation between what legislators may and may not legitimately do has baffled the minds of political philosophers for centuries; but there is no doubt that, left to their own devices, most politicians would like to make you eat up your greens.
-- Theodore Dalrymple, a physician, is a contributing editor of City Journal and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. His new book is Second Opinion: A Doctor's Notes from the Inner City.
Everything else is mandatory.
And someday, if our socialist-Utopian ruling-class fathers and mothers have their way, peasant abortions will be mandatory too.
Thanks for posting. Theodore Dalrymple is great. At least we still have him to read while Mark Steyn is away.
The lords of the universe think they can do anything they like. “Are you kidding me?” Lord Nancy!
I feel so safe from tyranny now that the liberals have created an omnipotent, unlimited federal government. Just imagine how different things would have been in Nazi Germany if they had had such a thing! [/sarcasm]
“My Body My Choice” is only operative when Republicans try to do anything health-related.
Scale back government to protecting the borders, fighting wars, and building postal roads.
I like broccoli, but since the dims are also against methane, this is catch 22 for ‘em.....
As was stated by the Court in the 1876 case of Munn v. State of Illinois, 94 U.S. 113:
“...When one becomes a member of society, he necessarily parts with some rights or privileges which, as an individual not affected by his relations to others, he might retain. ‘A body politic,’ as aptly defined in the preamble of the Constitution of Massachusetts, ‘is a social compact by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.’ This does not confer power upon the whole people to control rights which are purely and exclusively private, Thorpe v. R. & B. Railroad Co., 27 Vt. 143; but it does authorize the establishment of laws requiring each citizen to so conduct himself, and so use his own property, as not unnecessarily to injure another. This is the very essence of government, and has found expression in the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas. From this source come the police powers, which, as was said by Mr. Chief Justice Taney in the License Cases, 5 How. 583, ‘are nothing more or less than the powers of government inherent in every sovereignty, . . . that is to say, . . . the power to govern men and things.’
The premise of government of a free people is to restrict liberty of action only to the extent that such action injures the rights of others. It is never to compel action, for that is tyranny. As a free people, we are not “subjects” of our government but its master. This bill compels us to act, which is the antithesis of liberty.
Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 366. “By ‘liberty,’ as thus used, is meant something more than freedom from physical restraint or imprisonment. It means freedom, not merely to go wherever one may choose, but to do such acts as he may judge best for his interest not inconsistent with the equal rights of others; that is, to follow such pursuits as may be best adapted to his faculties, and which will give to him the highest enjoyment....”
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