What turns doctors into tyrants?

The British Medical Association has called for the government to ban all smoking in cars. This follows a similar call from the Royal College of Physicians a few years ago.

The British medical lobby has had an epiphany. Why should they have to worry about adapting to the shifting nature of Britain’s healthcare needs – which reeks of the unwelcome prospect of change – when they can instead simply demand that the government outlaw things that are making us ill?

Allowing people the freedom to do harmful things, and thus to contribute to ‘preventable death’ statistics, is anathema. I mean, if the entire nation were the prisoners of good doctors we would all live much longer.
That very phrase, ‘preventable death’, is symbolic of the problem. It reeks of a ‘something must be done!’ attitude towards people’s lifestyle choices that indicates a widespread disregard on the part of the medical authorities and much of the commentariat for the capacity of ordinary people to make their own decisions.

Of course, nobody will own up to this sort of old-fashioned, paternalist elitism. After all, progressives are meant to respect the working man and woman. Looking down on the ‘great unwashed’ and making moralistic judgements about them is what Tories are meant to do.

So instead, other reasons are found. Sometimes they are small and particular – for example, the car smoking ban is supposed to be about protecting children, even though advocates want to apply it to single drivers as well – and all this on the basis of an almost certainly apocryphal ’26 times the death’ statistic.

More often the reasons are big and sweeping, and none comes bigger than ‘cost to the NHS’. It’s pretty perverse: on the one hand, we insist that our social conscience will not permit anybody, for any reason, to fall beyond the safety net of the state; while on the other we try to claw back as much money as we can by stripping them of freedoms which may weigh heavily on our social treasury.

I’ve written at length about how a certain species of leftist will turn a safety net into a straightjacket and use the NHS as a highly effective basis for authoritarian government. Yet this is really just the logical outworking of the fact that the freedom-minded have almost totally lost the cultural battle about whether or not adult citizens of a country should be respected as such.

That’s the real battle. Important as the individual policy struggles for liberty are, they’ll continue to resemble endless rematches of Canute vs. the Tide unless public perceptions on personal liberty can be fundamentally shifted. Otherwise, each and every state-cutting measure will come with a ‘preventable death’ toll, and progressives will continue to paint liberty as murder-by-omission.