Regulating Bodies

05 February 2015

Our topic this week is Regulating Bodies.   My first gut instinct is to say that nobody really has the right to tell me what to do with my own body  -- not even the government.   It’s my body. I can do with it as I please.   But then I realize that there are things like mandatory seat belt laws, prohibitions against prostitution, and laws against the buying and selling of bodily organs.   All these things involve the regulation of the body.  So it is definitely true that the state does regulate our bodies.   But should the state really be in that business?

A negative answer suggests itself  If you start with the thought that each person and each person alone has exclusive ownership of his or her body, you get pretty directly to the conclusion that as long as a person is not hurting anybody else, they should be left alone to do with their body as they please.

On the other hand,  it seems pretty clear that the state has an interest in seeing to it that citizens remain healthy and able-bodied.  Where are the people who fight our wars or keep our streets safe or care for and educate our children going to come from if the state just sits back and allows us all to eat and drink ourselves to early graves.   I don’t mean to say that the state has the right to be a hectoring, hovering, helicopter parent.   But just as the state has a legitimate claim to some of our financial resources, it seems plausible to say that it also has a legitimate claim to some of our bodily resources too.  If it is alright for the state to tax away some of our wealth, why isn't it also okay for the state to expropriate some of our bodily resources too.

I don't mean to take this line of reasoning too far, however.   I’m not suggesting that that state should be able to take one of my arms or one of my kidneys and redistribute it to somebody else.  But suppose there was a blood shortage or a bone marrow shortage.   What would be so wrong with the state actually compelling healthy people to donate blood or bone marrow to alleviate the shortage? 

Maybe a skeptic would grant that donating blood or bone marrow is a good thing and allow that the state can legitimately encourage people to do so.  But surely, the skeptic will say,  compelling people to do so goes way too far.

That's an important point.  And we definitely have to think about the limits of state power.  But let’s not get hung up just yet about how far into our bodies the state may legitimately reach.  Let's first look at it from a moral point of view, instead.  Suppose that there’s a person right here, right now, who needs a blood transfusion or they are going to die.  If you could save them by giving a pint or two of  of your precious blood,  aren’t you morally obligated to do so?

If you side with the skeptic here,  you will respond that if  one failed to give one’s blood and just let the person die,  one could rightly be accused of being a callous, uncaring, s-o-b. But the skeptic will no doubt reject the implication that the dying person has some sort of right to another's blood.   My imagined skeptic will insist, again, that a person’s body is entirely that person’s own.  She will insist that not a single part of it belongs to the public or the government or to arbitrary strangers in need.   If so, nobody else ever has a right to any part of  it.

But I think we may just have to bite the bullet here.   We just have to deny that a person’s body belongs to her and her alone.  Let's see if that bullet blows our head off.

Start by returning to  the analogy with taxation.   Most people grant that society at large has a moral claim to at least a portion of our private wealth.  The tricky question is how much.  Clearly it would be wrong to tax people into poverty.  But as long as taxation leaves people with sufficient wealth to live fully flourishing lives,  society seems  perfectly within its rights to demand – not just to request, but to demand -- that we all make financial contributions to the common good. 

By parity of reasoning, perhpas we should conclude that just as the government can’t legitimately tax us into poverty, so it can’t legitimately violate our basic bodily integrity.  That’s why, for example, neither morality nor the state can require that I give up one of my arms.   But perhaps we should also conclude that as long as our basic bodily integrity is preserved, we  can be morally and maybe even legally,  required to give up what we  might call “excess”  body parts at least if doing so will increase the well-being of others.  And to carry the analogy even  further, think of estate taxes.   Why not say that just as we confiscate the estates of the wealthy dead for the common good, maybe we should confiscate the bodily organs of the healthy dead for the common good too? 

Now I admit that this is pretty heady, pretty counterintuitive stuff.   Probably few will agree – at least not at first.   But I hope I’ve shown that it’s really not so simple to say exactly who owns how much of one’s body and why and that there  are definitely some interesting things to think about here.   So now that I've whetted your appetite just a bit,   why not tune in, and lend a brain, if not a hand, as we think this through? 

Comments (23)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, September 29, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Compelling someone to donate

Compelling someone to donate bone marrow? You do realize what a painful, invasive, and potentially dangerous intervention that is, don't you? If that isn't overreach of state power, I don't know what is. It seems like if there is to be any bottom line for individual rights at all, one of the foundational rights should be bodily autonomy. Between that and freedom of conscience, one could see all or at least most of the rights of a citizen in a democratic society as rooted in these.
Also, I think you grant the state's right to ban prostitution to easy of a pass. That is not a point that's undebatable by a long shot. In any event, I'm told this is the subject of Philosophy Talk in a couple of weeks, so I'll shelve that argument until then. :-)

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

There is a lot to think about

There is a lot to think about here. The state even goes so far as to claim authority over the taking of one's own life. A question that has long intrigued me has been, what grounds the state's authority to outlaw suicide? I think it's safe to assume that if the state were to make suicide legal, that there wouldn't be lines of people waiting to jump off their local bridge; for those that would commit suicide would do so regardless of the law's standing, and those that wouldn't commit suicide, wouldn't commit suicide.
Isn't this ban on suicide then, making the most fundamental of claims about the proprietorship of an individual's body, namely, that the state, and not the individual, owns it? I'm curious, given the argument that you propose, as to what your take on that is. Has the state over-reached and over-imposed itself on the individual, or has it not crossed that soapy and slippery boundary?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

The State regulates US for

The State regulates US for the good or the greed?
My wife died some years ago from alcoholism, a poisonous substance regulated and controlled by the US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The ATF regulates production, distribution, and sales of alcohol, a substance that kills and injures millions of Americans every year. But here is the kicker: did you know that the ATF is a subsidiary department of the IRS., revenue!
The Surgeon General warns us that tobacco can be hazardous to our health rather than telling us that tobacco kills, but at the same time revenue stamps each package of poison for control and profit.
And firearms, need I say more.
Which brings me to the ultimate question: If our government is in the business and control of the flow of substances that kill millions of people a year shouldn't they be held liable, or accountable, or maybe even better, to just get out of the business entirely?
Thanks,
=

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, September 30, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

As Andrushenko states: there

As Andrushenko states: there is a lot to think about here. It is early in the stream of consciousness to come regarding this post. I had some initial thoughts when I read the post title but soon realized those were not relevant. Ken's musings and questions reminded me of the many years and many volumes I spent reading science fiction---stories that stretched the boundaries of morality. As a younger, inexperienced person, I was fascinated by the stories, wondering which (if any) would come to pass, and what would be the outcomes/impacts of those that did. As a much older and more experienced person, I have seen much science fiction become science fact.
What do I think about the questions raised? It probably does not matter much, because I will not live long enough for any of it to matter to me---succeeding generations will, no doubt, be prepared to deal with such matters; rightly, wrongly or indifferently. But, I'll just say this much: I have never thought highly of eugenics.
And the notion of compulsory donorism smacks of just that sort of cold calculation. Anything that can go wrong will. That reality makes the small hairs on the back of my neck extremely nervous. So, there it is,
Warmest, The Doctor.

Guest's picture

Guest

Monday, October 1, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

MJA: I am sorry for your loss

MJA: I am sorry for your loss. It could have been me and may still be so. Fare well, blog acquaintence---or, as well as you can.
PDV.

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I wonder if Dr. S' first

I wonder if Dr. S' first inclination on the blog post title was to read it as: RegulATORY Bodies? I did, and also realized my misinterpretation. But, then again, the terms are interconnected, are they not? Also, it may be a stretch, but the Doctor's mention of eugenics does not seem too far afield to me. Other commenters remarks appear to have supported this suspicion. All of this circles back to your other posts regarding matters of morality. Perhaps you wanted us to notice---or hoped we would? Just guessing, guys.
Some things are wrong, on their face. I have considered eugenics among those. The honorable Catholic pope, Benedict, has condemned relativism. That is within his job description, I think. I don't believe morality or immorality are the overarching problems we face in this dialogue: they represent extremes, arguably, "good vs. bad." Amorality is the culprit and is likely what Pope Benedict loathes the most. Because it thrives on complacency and relativism. As a good friend and former boss once told me: you must stand for something or you will fall for anything. He was right, and still is.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

I'm disappointed that they

I'm disappointed that they glossed over the vaccine issue. The prevailing opinion is that vaccines are safe, effective, and an important medical advancement. On the other hand, many people have taken a closer look and have serious doubts about the safety of vaccines. They say that many studies are questionable and that conflicts of interest are rampant. Whatever your viewpoint, it's a fact that vaccines are drugs with risks and contain toxic substances. It's also a fact that contracting a disease is a risk. The risk/benefit analysis is up for debate.
Here's my point: I believe each person has the right to decide for him/herself whether they allow any drug to be injected or ingested. No one should be compelled to consume something that comes with a health risk. What goes in my body is my decision. It's not up to the government nor anyone else. And since I'm responsible for my child, what goes in my child's body is my decision as well.

Fred Griswold's picture

Fred Griswold

Thursday, October 4, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

They instituted a law in New

They instituted a law in New York lately that restricts the selling of soft drinks, on the theory that they're bad for your health. It seems that 4 out of 5 black women are overweight. In a place like Africa, where the food supply may not be reliable, this would make sense. Overweight people are less likely to starve. It turns out that most black men like a woman with a little flesh on her hips. So there is a cultural side to this too, it's not just a health issue. Supporting laws like the one in New York could almost be seen as racist. Now, in America, the food supply is a lot more reliable than in Africa. That's presumably because of our technology - farming techniques and such. As long as technology keeps going onward and upward, we're safe. But there are no guarantees about that. For instance, we are (according to some) about halfway through the world's supply of oil already. All those overweight black ladies might turn out to have an adaptive advantage sometime in the unforeseeable future. So this question is not as simple as it looks.
On the blood transfusion issue, suppose the dying person is O. J. Simpson and the person with the right blood type is Nicole Brown Simpson's sister. I don't think anyone could fault her for denying him the transfusion. These moral questions often seem so complicated they don't really have a right answer.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Thursday, October 4, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

This may raise a firestorm--

This may raise a firestorm---but you do not need to allow it, if you choose not to do so. I think vaccinations are necessary, as are their known (and unknown) risks. Here is the deal, according to doctors; immunologists; and little me: We have eradicated smallpox, pretty much; poliomyelitis; diptheria; whooping cough (pertussis);varella (sp?-measles); chicken pox, and a host of other pestilences too numerous to list here. Some of the other nasties such as bubonic plague; cholera; dengue fever; and leprosy are stubbornly resistant. But, they too may ultimately succumb---or not. Ebola is really scary, as are all haemorragic (spelling, again?)fevers.
My point? Well, medicine has done much to make us safer. Anyone who ignores this is either mired in some sort of cultural superstition, or is not paying attention. I will not single out any group for criticism---I need not do so because most educated folks realize there are those who have issues with modern medicine. A pity, that.
I got my flu shot today. I will be 65 years old in January(tap,tap on hardened cellulose). Flu shots have not killed me yet. And, neither has the flu. Or smallpox;whooping cough;polio;herpes zoster; tetanus; pneumonia; diptheria;
---I could go on and on regarding the preventive poisons that have been placed in my body over these three-score and almost five. Come on now. People are intelligent. And smart enough to avail themselves of the advantages and protections of modern science. Aren't they? I would love to go to Africa before I leave this earthly realm. But, frankly, Ebola scares the hell out of me. Guess I'll stay home.
Best to All,
Neuman.

Guest's picture

Guest

Friday, October 5, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Neuman: I see you've drank

Neuman: I see you've drank the coolade. How can an intelligent person believe that modern medicine is completely infallible? Modern medicine has done many incredible things, but also has turned in many screw-ups. It takes an educated person to see the difference. Your implication that anyone that questions modern medicine "is either mired in some sort of cultural superstition, or is not paying attention" is just insulting.
The flu shot, and all the other shots you've taken, haven't killed you yet. Good for you. But there are a lot of people that have been harmed. You made the choice to receive all those "preventive poisons". That's your choice. But show some respect to people who make choices that are different from yours.

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Saturday, October 6, 2012 -- 5:00 PM

Dear TC. I'm not sure who I

Dear TC. I'm not sure who I insulted or who you think I have shown disrespect for. Maybe I am educated or maybe not. No matter really. I'll leave it at that and let others decide who is the reactionary here. Have a nice day. Neuman, over and out.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, February 5, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Typhus is gone (remember

Typhus is gone (remember Typhoid Mary?), smallpox is gone, polio, measles and many others, gone. Even tooth decay, largely a thing of the past since flouridation. Government had us install indoor plumbing. It forced electricity to be made available in rural areas. It forced doctors to show proof of competence. Employers used to argue that accepting employment implied consent to the hazards involved, even where death was common. Is it government intrusion to prevent employers from taking liberties with employees' bodily choices? Is this, after all, just another anarchy question? There's lots of debate yet about what methods work best to reduce addiction, but does this mean there is no public interest is limiting the crime and strain addiction is on the public and on public resources?
But a more basic question is, is this a question that lends itself to general discussion at all? Most public health consequences of individual decisions can be addressed on a public basis, effecting enough compliance to reduce the problem to a manageable level without imposing upon anyone in particular, just by convincing most people of the wisdom of a certain behavior or alternative.
But when we walk into a store and are instantly bombarded by every tactic the most devious and highly trained experts, armed with sophisticated experimental data, can inflict upon us, is this really a matter of individual choice? The marketers are certainly trying to see to it is is not. To get too individualistic in this is to go unilaterally disarmed against a phalanx of interest in undermining our individuality.  
So, is this a vexed question? 

lindamat2001@yahoo.com's picture

lindamat2001@ya...

Saturday, February 7, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

This idea does NOT apply to

This idea does NOT apply to kidneys, because we don't have an "extra" kidney, we have two because as we age there are conditions and illnesses that affect one kidney and perhaps not the other, and since the function of the kidney is so essential to life, we NEED the redundancy.  The people who donate a kidney voluntarily, often to a family member, are taking a risk for their own health into the future.  This _has_ to be voluntary!
 

haber.jim's picture

haber.jim

Saturday, February 7, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Regulating abortion would

Regulating abortion would mean that we're saying that women have to subordinate their bodies to the state in a way that men don't. How do we feel about that philosophically?

N. Bogdanov's picture

N. Bogdanov

Saturday, February 7, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

I think your post brings up

I think your post brings up two important, and importantly different, lenses through which to consider the problem of regulating bodies. The first you mention at the beginning of your post: the state. Here, the thought seems to be that the state has certain compelling interests, which, when demonstrated under sufficient scrutiny, allow it to justifiably interfere in areas otherwise off-limits to it. For example, I would argue that the state has a compelling interest in its citizens remaining free of illness. In fact, I would think that most people would agree with this claim. The disagreement comes when we consider whether some specific measure is appropriately suited at serving that interest. Does taxing unhealthy food serve that interest enough, for example, for us to justify it? What about mandating vaccinations?
The other lens is that of morality, which you mention toward the end of your post. Morality is not an institution, per se, so it is more difficult to speak of it infringing upon our rights. We can, however, ask if it generates the sort of force we think it does in reference to our bodies. But, the role of our bodies in this question seems misplaced. The question, I think, should not be whether morality can regulate our bodies; that seems to put the cart before the horse. Rather, the question should always concern what we ought to do and what doing so might say of our philosophical orientations. If, under this scheme, we find ourselves required to give blood, then we can take issue with it on the grounds of giving blood, not on the grounds of regulating bodies, which by itself is too broad a category to be meaningful. On this view, one might call forgoing vaccination immoral because in doing so we do not consider the agency of those whom we might be affecting (or, rather, infecting) further down the line.

Lane's picture

Lane

Saturday, February 7, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

 

 
Show opened today with Ken asking what Philosopher would even think to ask the question, "Who owns my body?" 
But only a male philosopher who has no real concept of what women have been dealing with with for thousands of years would find the question obscure, unique or strange. Women have been trying to assert control over their own bodies and reproductive capacities since the dawn of time. It's one of the central questions a woman starts to ask as soon as she's no longer a child.
 
 

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Saturday, February 7, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

The issue of vaccines is less

The issue of vaccines is less one of public coercion, a preponderance of compliance should be enough without it, than of bad science, which frightens the unsophisticated into non-compliance. This is especially problematic when the hold-outs suppose themselves more knowledgeable than they are. This is a media issue, not one of personal choice. Public persuasion is effective if the media is not shill to private interest with no respect for facts or even decency. I would just hope there is no place for bad science in these discussions.
The images in the header here are troubling. But they underscore a whole range of intrusions that result, not from government heavy-handedness per se, but with the tendency of security services in particular to develop such an inflated sense of self-importance that privacy concerns have little impact on them. So much of what they do is secret that they can hardly avoid succumbing to the temptation to cover their mistakes in it, and so take on a culture of supremacy to law, and even to public interest, and certainly to public scrutiny. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned of this twenty years ago in his book Secrecy.
 

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Monday, February 9, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

I've been away for awhile-

I've been away for awhile--since insulting TC with my last comment on this regulating bodies topic. Happy to see some new ideas from some new contributors! I'll try not to be too insulting here, but, no---I do not see this question as at all vexatious. Why? Because, contrary to one comment, not all infectious diseases are gone. The growing measles outbreak seems to aptly illustrate that reality. We ought (seems to me) to be more responsible towards civilization. Immunization programs have, over the long view, proven safe and effective. Recent concerns about the autism connection have not been substantiated, to the best of my current knowledge. It is certainly laudable to respect people who wish to make their own choices about things. But for every choice we make, there is either a benefit to be gained or a price to be paid---or both. And it is another matter altogether when others are compelled to pay the price for choices THEY did not make. On a related note, there is an increasing epidemic of personal irresponsibility infecting our world. But, that is another issue that has been vexatious for perhaps a dozen years. Go your own ways, friends---by all means, make your own choices. But, remember also that those choices can affect innocent people in adverse ways. I really must read what Laura's post has to say about anarchy. I think it may connect with the I epidemic mentioned above. Warmly, Neuman.

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Without taking issue with the

Without taking issue with the gist of your post, a couple of things could be clarified. An infectious disease is said to be eradicated from a population when all new cases are externally derived, as in the case of the Mickey Mouse Measles. I thought somebody might miss that nuance. I wouldn't be too hard on people generally for the current problem. The real culprit is a media so scientifically illiterate that it is a wonder any sense can be made of it at all. It is all too easy to find clusters of anomalies that might convince the unsophisticated that something outside the stated principle is at work. A study was done asking two groups to do a series of coin tosses. One group actually tossed coins, while the other imagined their coin. The operators of the test could tell which group was which because the imaginary coins yielded results much too close to the theoretical distribution. It is very hard to convince the untrained that a 'cluster' is not statistically significant in too small a sample. Hence Oprah has convinced armies of soccer moms to keep their children unvaccinated. It's her, and not the mothers, who should be disciplined somehow. The issue is vexed because our bodies are regulated in ways that government is needed to prevent, insofar as this is possible. Aside from the manhandling we get from security forces, and the us vs. them mentality that creeps into law-enforcement, especially where white cops police black neighborhoods, government doesn't do nearly as much regulating our bodies as merchants do. That is, the issue is vexed because it doesn't address the most pertinent scale of intrusion, employers, the grocer, the bank, the insurance companies, fast food, etc. Political power is not proprietary, and tyranny is nothing more than the, perceived, prerogative of the strong. The role of government is not to own power, but to keep proprietary claims from being made upon it.

RB's picture

RB

Wednesday, February 11, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Do you feel a child should be

Do you feel a child should be able to bring a Wrongful Life suit against their parents when it is clear the parents knew there would be a 50% chance of passing on a defective dominant gene that would seriously limit the quality of life of the child?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Thursday, February 12, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

No more than I feel a child

No more than I feel a child should feel obligated throughout life for the 'gift' of being brought into the world. Non-being is not the opposite of being, it is its contrary. Leer is wrong.

Or's picture

Or

Monday, March 2, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

What if experience is an

What if experience is an illusion? What if we, humans, are an illusion? What if our physical bodies and mental processes are an illusion? Would then the question regarding ownership and/or regulation of ownership of human bodies still be relevant? Would affirming or thinking that ?I own my body - it?s my right ? and/or that ?I can do with my body what I please? be ascertainments that completely take another dimension in such a situation, perhaps a spiritual dimension?  And if that was the case, what would the meaning of ownership (at an individual or state level) be within a spiritual dimension? In my opinion, the human illusion of ownership is the result of a pretentious, misleading, and even misinformed human understanding of the human nature.  We own nothing, much less our physical wrapping. One day I have all my body parts (regulated or not by the system), the next day I am not even here! So how could I, or any system created by humans, all of us merely illusions, possibly have any rights over this ethereal illusionary human substance?

Gary M Washburn's picture

Gary M Washburn

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 -- 4:00 PM

Can an illusion make a

Can an illusion make a difference in you ability to apprehend your own words? Or to appreciate their meaning? The seeming hermetic seal between minds is not a simple matter. There is something secreted there (the refusal to appreciate my response) and yet there is also something there every bit as unhidden as it is unknown to me (your being influenced to do so). The former discerns you as a thing apart, but renders you anonymous to yourself. The latter frees me of your prejudices and so offers me the meaning of the name as that unhidden though yet unknown person. The flaw in the logic of it is its refusal to recognize the unfinished isolation in the qualifier. "Is not" is not the contradictory to "is", it is the contrary. And so the logical inference that divides the universe into distinct units and entities bleeds meaning as it goes. What extends is not more perfect isolation but less. We distinguish each other by offering the means to each other to be free of such secreted unresponsiveness and are introduced to each other as much unhidden as we are yet unknown. Our name is the initiation of that difference. This is why a name is a special linguistic event that logic cannot defeat.
 
 

 
 
 

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