Democrats are the pro-choice party. Unless you're dying. Then your body belongs to them.
We know this because on March 13, a "Right to Try" bill failed to get a two-thirds majority in the House. Most of the 140 "no" votes came from Democrats.
The Right to Try movement believes terminally ill patients should be allowed to choose their own medicine, including (heaven forbid) drugs not approved by the FDA. Most patients would naturally consult with their physician first, but ultimately the decision would be theirs. If "pro-choice" means anything, shouldn't it include this?
Apparently not, at least according to the Democrats who opposed the bill. Sure, Democrats aren't pro-choice when it comes to schools, or how to spend your money. We've known that for a long time. But when it comes to intimate, personal choices involving your body and your life, they're at least good on those issues, right? Not anymore.
Why would a pro-choice Democrat oppose the right of terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs? After all, sick people who are rich can afford to fly to other countries to get treatments not yet approved in the U.S. They already enjoy the Right to Try. Why would a Democrat, who supposedly advocates for the middle class and the poor, deny them the same privilege?
Both left and right need to get out of the mindset that reducing options for desperate people somehow helps them. If a woman is down on her luck but willing to have sex with men for money, how exactly does throwing her in jail show compassion? If a man has nothing to offer on the labor market but his willingness to work, how does making it illegal to hire him below some legally mandated wage help him out of poverty? If a poor family wants a better education than the one they're getting, how does denying them a school voucher improve their lives?
What's particularly infuriating about Congress' failure to pass this particular bill is that it's so tame compared to a true Right to Try. The language in the bill would have permitted terminally ill patients to choose drugs already proven safe by the FDA, just not yet proven to be effective. On what moral grounds can we possibly deny terminally ill patients drugs that might save their life, simply because we don't yet know how effective they might be?
I suggest part of the impulse to reduce the choices of desperate people lies with our discomfort at their existence. If a terminally ill person dies while taking an unapproved drug, that's upsetting to learn about. But if they simply die, well, that's what happens when you're sick.
If we see a woman on the street offering sex to strangers for money, that's upsetting. So we make it illegal, and therefore invisible. Then we can pretend it doesn't exist and pat ourselves on the back for making the world a better place.
When we support minimum wage laws, we think that guarantees everyone a fair salary, so we feel good about ourselves. Poor, unskilled workers who are now illegal to hire don't register on our moral radar screen. They should.
Desperate people will always be with us. But just because they're desperate doesn't mean they're incompetent, uninformed, or morally decrepit. They deserve to be allowed to make choices.
Yes, those choices may be unpleasant, or even truly awful. They serve as painful reminders that, despite the tremendous progress humanity has made over the past century or two, there is still suffering, poverty, and pain. But rather than limit their choices and threatening them with jail, we ought to be offering them positive alternatives. Like, in this case, non-government approved medications that might save their lives.
Conservatives won't let the terminally ill choose to die. Some liberals, apparently, won't let them try to live. What is wrong with this picture?
There is nothing compassionate about limiting choices for people, particular for those who have so few. Their life does not belong to us, or to Congress, or to anyone else. It belongs to them. Their choice does too.
Barry Fagin is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can write Dr. Fagin at email@example.com.