C . A . G . E .
Citizens Against Government Encroachment -- Citoyens Anti Gouvernement Envahissant




The "Economic Cost of Unhealthy Lifestyles" Argument

CAGE does not have a position regarding the desirability of maintaining Canada’s current welfare state and universal health coverage. Some of our members highly value these things, while others revile them.

CAGE does have a very strong position regarding certain common arguments used to justify coercive legislation aimed at people’s lifestyle, however. These arguments typically revolve around the following logic: A person who [insert one of the following: "smokes," "does not wear a helmet," "is sedentary," "eats unhealthy food," etc…] imposes a cost on the health system which others must bear. We must therefore look to government to either forbid such behaviour, or make it as difficult as possible to engage in this kind of lifestyle [e.g. harass people].

Since the 1980s this kind of thinking has led to a very worrying new focus on "prevention" and "fostering healthy, correct lifestyles." An army of health policy researchers, bureaucrats, special interest groups and politicians has launched a coordinated assault on personal liberty and choice, with the intent of protecting us from ourselves and forcing us to make the so-called "right choices."

They justify ever-higher budgets for their particular projects and bureaucracies, and increasingly invasive and expensive government interventions, through the production of costly study after study -- studies that show alarming levels of "preventable deaths" and the costs of things like smoking, obesity and alcohol consumption to the health system. The health policy crowd also jets around from glitzy conference to conference, to share and discuss an ever-increasing array of social engineering strategies to make people adopt the approved life-style choices.

No wonder we don’t have enough funds left for treatment, and that many of us must wait more than 1 year for hip replacement or other kinds of surgery. We need to support the good doctors and nurses of this country who actually practice medicine, rather than the health policy nannies who practice harassment.

We should remember two things – the health system is already under heavy financial strain from caring for an aging population that lives longer than any of its predecessors, and ultimately, no death is preventable – that’s just the fact of mortality, or as they say, "death and taxes." Or in this case, "death after a hell of a lot of taxes to support people claiming to be able to save us from death."

Do we really want to continue down a blind alley of petty judgements and endless societal bickering about who costs society more, a rotten path unworthy of our great heritage and society? "Public health" should never mean forcing or harassing people to conform to standards and norms according to the whims of bureaucrats, health professionals, politicians, and crusading lobby groups. Rather, it should mean what it originally meant: standards for clean drinking water, vaccinations, inspecting food for contaminants, pollution controls, and similar issues outside the realm of individual choice.

Every one of us, including the state health clergy, makes daily choices that reduce our health and impose costs on "the system." Driving to work rather than cycling, buying a car that is less fuel efficient, watching television on the couch instead of exercising, taking the escalator, eating badly, engaging in risky sports, smoking, drinking, not stretching before exercising – the list goes on and on. A society that focuses on calculating the cost of each of these behaviours, assigning blame, and imposing coercive legislation, has in fact embarked upon the road to hell – whether they did so with good intentions or not. So far in Canada this road has led us to mandatory cycling helmet laws, forbidding bars from offering free drink specials, smoking bans that even extend into private clubs and Legion Halls, and excessive "sin taxes" on alcohol, tobacco, and in the near future, high calorie foods. What a coercive, patronizing and wasteful distraction from more pressing priorities.

We at CAGE would rather spend our limited time on this earth happy, making our own choices, and living with a health system that gives us treatment when we need it instead of spending our tax dollars on health nannies lecturing, harassing, and coercing us every day, as if by making the so-called "right" choices we will never get sick. We need to return to a focus on treatment and strictly limit the extent to which we use government to promote healthy lifestyles. Specifically, government may inform and encourage us to lead healthier lives, but should never coerce us with the "stick" of bans, harassment, and mandatory health edicts. We do not wish to become healthy slaves. The more macabre economists amongst us might also point out that someone who lives to the age of 90 ends up costing the system much more than someone who passes on at the current average of 79.7.

We also need to return to yesterday’s culture of tolerance and civility, accepting other people’s choices whether we approve of them or not. Some people’s behaviour will invariably cost the health system more than others’ – and we must either 1) accept this; or 2) dismantle our current health system; or 3) throw out our values regarding individual liberty. CAGE and the people who support CAGE find the third option unacceptable.

Dr. David Romano

Ph.D. University of Toronto (Political Science)