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Jewish World Review April 26, 2001 / 4 Iyar, 5761

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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"The duty to die" -- OUR betters have been telling us how to live our lives for so long that it is only the next logical step for them to tell us when to die. We have grown so used to meekly accepting their edicts, even on what words we can and cannot use -- "swamp" has virtually disappeared from the English language, replaced by "wetlands," as "bums" has been replaced by "the homeless, "sex" by "gender" -- that it seems only fitting that they should now tell us when to die.

The new phrase is "the duty to die." The anointed have proclaimed this duty, so who are we ordinary people to question it? Former Colorado governor Richard Lamm has said that the elderly should "consider making room in the world for the young by simply doing with less medical care and letting themselves die." Colorado didn't seem that desperately over-crowded to me, but Lamm is one of the voices of the anointed, so their arbitrary dogmas become well-known facts by sheer repetition.

In the Hastings Center Report, described as a journal of medical ethics, a medical ethicist says that "health care should be withheld even for those who want to live" if they have already lived beyond the politically correct number of years -- which he suggests might be 75. He says that, after such a "full rich life" then "one is duty-bound to die."

There's more. Another medical ethicist would consider extending the limit to 80 years but, after that, medical care should be denied to all who have "lived out a natural life span."

You may wonder who these people are and who gave them the right to play G-d. But the answer is simple. They are legion and it is we who have supinely accepted their pronouncements on so many things for so long that they see no reason to limit how far they can go.

There was a time when Americans told people like this where they could go. But one of the many phrases to fade from our vocabulary is "None of your business!" Today, everything is everybody's business. The next step is for it to become the government's business.

This collectivist mentality has led to big noises being made in the media and in academia about whether corporate executives or professional athletes are being paid "too much." I don't know how many millions of dollars Derek Jeter gets paid for playing shortstop for the Yankees, but I do know that not one of those millions comes from me. That's between him and George Steinbrenner. It's none of my business.

How did we get sucked into collectivizing decisions that were once up to individuals? Purple prose is one factor. One of those who wants to see old-timers removed from the scene declares that the costs of keeping them alive is "a demographic, economic and medical avalanche." Melodramatic phrase-making has become the royal road to power.

What is far more of a threat than the little dictators who are puffed up with their own importance is the willingness of so many others to surrender their freedom and their money in exchange for phrases like "crisis" and "compassion." Will America go down in history as the country which defeated collectivism in the 20th century and then became collectivist itself in the 21st century?

Collectivism takes on many guises and seldom uses its own real name. Words like "community" and "social" soothe us into thinking that collectivist decision-making is somehow higher and nobler than individual or "selfish" decision-making. But the cold fact is that communities do not make decisions. Individuals who claim to speak for the community impose their decisions on us all.

Collectivist dictation can occur from the local level to the international level, and the anointed push it at all levels. They want a bigger role for the UN, for the International Court of Justice at the Hague and for the European Union bureaucrats in Brussels. Anything except individual freedom.

You cannot even build or remodel your own home without finding yourself under the thumb of local bureaucrats and tangled in red tape. A couple who are trying to have a home built in coastal California are discovering that it takes far less time to build the house than it does to deal with the arbitrary edicts of local bureaucrats and the reams of local regulations. The husband has taken to singing in the shower: "We shall overcome some day ... "

Maybe they will and maybe they won't. Maybe we are all destined to give up our freedom to those ruthless enough to take it from us -- or glib enough to soothe us into handing it over to them.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.


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© 2001, Creators Syndicate