Monday, August 22, 2011

The right to take risk...

Two things triggered this blog post.

The first was that when I went pony trekking in England, they would not allow my husband to canter his horse. He is a perfectly safe and competent rider, but he did not check all of their required boxes...specifically, I suspect it was because he hasn't ridden in a little while.

The reason? 'Health and safety/insurance won't let us do it'.

And I'd always thought of England as more sensible about such things.

The second trigger point was an article in the Washington Post about a diagnotician...a real life Doctor House who stated that he is often unable to treat patients once he has established their condition. Why? Because he isn't allowed to use a remedy not approved by the FDA. No matter what.

Let's look at number two first. If somebody is dying and there is a potential cure, our society will not let them try it unless it is proved to be safe. Now, if you're going to die anyway, why not take the risk of a cure that might work or might kill you (or your child)? No. Much better to accept only 'standard treatments' and let people die. I read an editorial by the good Dr. Schmidt saying he would like to see licensed quacks...medical professionals with the legal right to attempt untested and unproven treatments on fully consenting patients.

As for number one, if I fall off a horse and hurt myself, that is my fault. If it happens, it happens despite safety equipment and correct fall training, so I would have to be fairly unlucky. It is not my trainer's fault, or the owner of the horse's fault (and I have heard a good number of horror stories wherein somebody has had to watch a good friend sued out of business by their health insurance company entirely against their wishes).

What it boils down to, though, is that we don't trust people to make their own decisions and judgments any more. As a result, people can't assess risk. They become paralyzed when forced to do so.

I would, thus, argue for a right to take risk. This means the right to sign a waiver and have it be binding, so that a provider of unproven medical care or risky activities is in no danger of being sued. It means the right to do whatever we want with our own bodies regardless of how dangerous it is. It's a right to smoke, drink, take drugs, get on a horse, go sailing, or try a last ditch cancer treatment. We need all of those rights, and all of those rights go together. They can't be separated.

I'm not entirely against safety legislation. People who are working should be provided with safety equipment and providers of risky activities should be legally obligated to make standard safety equipment available to their customers. Children should not be on bikes, horses, or skateboards without helmets. But each and every adult should be legally permitted to assess risk for him or herself and make a reasoned decision. After all, we are supposed to be Thinking Man.