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Public policy, like life, is always a matter of trade-offs. The difficulty often arises not so much in determining what is good and what is bad, but in comparing goods’ value to each other, especially when they come into conflict. Further complicating matters, this weighing of risk varies for any given individual depending on his situation: under some circumstances, risks that would be otherwise unthinkable may well be prudent and wise. And the only thing more difficult than anticipating changed circumstances is accurately forecasting people’s reaction to them.
This complexity — or, more specifically, the inherent difficulties in understanding this complexity — is one of the best arguments against Progressivism: no one is smart enough to be a philosopher king and attempts to approximate one through law and regulation are doubly doomed to failure. Leaving people to make their own choices and evaluate their own risks not only wins on its philosophical appeal to liberty (no small thing that), but also on terms of pure pragmatism.
It’s hard to imagine an issue that better illustrates the absurdity — and immorality — of Progressive’s we-know-what’s-best-for-you attitude than when it comes to access to experimental drugs for the terminally ill. Whatever benefits the FDA provides in terms of public safety and accountability (I’ve mixed feelings on the matter), they’re non-existent when it comes to dealing with the terminally ill. In what may well be a first, both National Review’s Wesley Smith and Reason’s Nick Gillespie both applaud the California Legislature (yes, you read that right) for passing a bill that would lax regulations for the dying which, unfortunately, met a sad end under Gov. Jerry Brown’s veto pen. As Smith notes in what can only be described as one of the most perfect ironies of all time, Brown also recently signed legislation — and with much fanfare — allowing assisted suicide.
There’s a limited purview under which the government should be able to say it knows better than you. We can — and often do — debate precisely what the bounds of that should be. But allowing the dying one last, high-stakes roll of the dice when they’ve got so little to lose and much to gain should be a no-brainer. Alas.