Everyone today knows that governments such as Nazi, communist, and theocratic regimes have tortured, slaughtered, and otherwise ruined the lives of hundreds of millions of people (and counting). A person forced by a government into a eugenics lab or a concentration camp cannot live as a human being, because he cannot act on the judgment of his mind. A person forced by a government to become a farmer or a dancer or a physicist cannot live as a human being, because he cannot act on his judgment. And a woman forced by a government to wear a burka or to stay with her husband or to stay at home cannot live as a human being, because she cannot act on hers.
But governments can and unfortunately do use physical force against people in subtler, less-obvious ways as well.
Consider, for instance, Anna Tomalis of Clarksville Maryland. In 2004, when Anna was ten years old, she was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy failed to halt the cancer, her doctors told her there was nothing more they could do. So Anna and her parents searched the web and discovered experimental drugs that, in clinical trials, had extended the lives of patients with the same kind of cancer. Anna and her parents were relieved: In their judgment, these experimental drugs were worth the risks involved in her taking them.
But the U.S. government forbade the dying girl to take the drugs because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hadn’t approved them. Asked in an interview what she thought about this situation, Anna replied: “I know there are other drugs out there for me. I’m not happy with it. I don’t think it’s right.” Anna’s mother pleaded with Congress to pass a proposed bill that would have enabled Anna to take the drugs: “Please help her. She wants to survive.”39 But Congress did not pass the bill.
Anna wrote to the FDA requesting a “compassionate-use exemption,” which, if granted, would permit her to take the drugs. But the FDA bureaucrats took their time. Months passed before they reviewed Anna’s request and granted her permission. By then it was too late. Although the drugs might have saved or extended Anna’s life if she had been free to take them earlier, at this point the cancer had spread too far, and the drugs could not stop it. After receiving only one round of treatment, she died of the disease. She was then thirteen.
The issue of people being forced to act against their judgment is a matter of life and death. In some cases, such force results in a subhuman existence. In other cases, it means going out of existence. In all cases, it thwarts people’s basic means of living and thus stops them from living fully as human beings.
Consider a few more of the countless instances of force used against Americans on a daily basis. We are saddled with laws that force everyone to purchase health insurance (ObamaCare), laws that force bankers to lend money to people they deem un-creditworthy (Community Reinvestment Act), laws that force citizens to bail out bankers who go bankrupt (TARP), laws that force homeowners to hand over their property for the “greater good” (eminent domain), laws that forbid businessmen from merging their companies (antitrust), laws that forbid couriers from delivering mail (postal monopoly), laws that force people to pay for the education of other people’s children (government-run schools), laws that force younger Americans to pay for the health care and retirement of older Americans (Medicare and Social Security), laws that force students to “volunteer” in their communities, laws that forbid employers and employees from contracting in accordance with their own judgment (minimum wage laws), laws that force automakers to “contract” with labor unions on terms that are detrimental to their businesses (National Labor Relations Act)—and on and on. In all such cases, people are forced to act against their own judgment—against their basic means of living; thus they are unable to live fully as human beings.
Of course, people can remain alive under these kinds and degrees of force; but insofar as any force is used against them, they cannot live fully as human beings. A human life is a life guided by the judgment of one’s mind.
On the basis of such observations, Ayn Rand established the objective, fact-based case for individual rights.
Read the whole essay
Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights: The Moral Foundation of a Free Society