Monday, September 24, 2007

Government Intrusion on Medicine, Part 2

Although in America the government cannot force adults to be treated medically (unless they are deemed "mentally ill," a subject I'll discuss later), it can and does force the treatment of children against their parents' wishes. Sometimes, as with vaccination, most states allow exemptions, though parents are generally not informed of this. In other situations, where the life of the child is presumed to be endangered, courts often order treatments that the parents believe will be damaging, and the unfortunate parents must choose between betraying their child's trust and losing custody. This happens not only in cases of religious objection to treatment -- where, tragically, well-meaning parents have too often been convicted of neglect or even murder for avoiding government-approved care -- but in an increasing number of cases of disagreement based on medical controversy. And then there are the millions of children now being given dangerous psychoactive drugs with their parents' full cooperation, merely because schools and school-approved therapists say they should be.

It goes without saying that government control over prescription drugs is a serious restriction on freedom, not only in the sense of freedom from government interference with individual choice, but because it makes those who require medication continuously dependent on the officially-licensed medical establishment. Yet so accustomed are we to this control that most of us aren't even aware that it did not exist until 1938. Before that, Americans could buy whatever drugs they wished, except narcotics; doctors' prescriptions were mere advice, not legal authorization. There are a few people today (and I am one of them) who believe that the present law is wrong -- that the government has no right to dictate what citizens may or may not consume -- and that its power with regard to drugs should be limited to ensuring truth in labeling. But the vast majority are concerned only with whether or not presently-illegal drugs should be legalized, an issue that obscures the real problem. By declaring some drugs too dangerous for public consumption (which indeed they are) the current law promotes the idea that others are both safe and desirable. Yet no drug is "safe"; with few if any exceptions, all have "side" effects that are either risky or downright damaging -- though many are the lesser of evils compared to serious illness. The public is urged to take authorized drugs to relieve every conceivable condition, potential future condition, or discontent -- and then society wonders why some turn to unauthorized ones in pursuit of the same goal. Adults are treated like children, while children are prevented from developing into responsible, self-sufficient adults.

As C. D. Herrera has written, "The state’s close involvement with medical research, education and certification prevents it from being a disinterested spectator . . . [its] close involvement with medicine dictates a particular interpretation of what is in the child’s best interests." I might add that political considerations, not to mention lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry, strongly influence its interpretation of what is in anybody's best interests. Furthermore, as Peter says in Stewards of the Flame, "Whenever health authorities succeed in overcoming some actual problem, such as contagion, they are left with a bureaucracy that must justify its existence by medicalizing more and more aspects of simply being human." Those of us who care about medical autonomy cannot afford to be complacent.

For links to many articles about government compulsion in medical treatment, go to and click through to the background information pages.

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