Who Owns Your Body You or the State?
By Ron BainPierced and tattooed people. Users of illicit drugs. Gay men and lesbians. Extreme sports adventurers. Pregnant women who abort. Nicotine addicts and alcoholics. Prostitutes. Vegetarians. Celibates. Tee-totalers. Alligator wrestlers. Freed slaves. Those who seek out 'alternative' medicines and healers.
What do these people all share in common?
It's a principle I've dubbed "biological autonomy." It's the same principle that's expressed when people say "It's my body and I'll do what I want with it," or when they adorn their car bumpers with stickers that read "Keep Your Laws Off My Body." The same principle that's expressed when the health conscious say "I may not be able to control the universe, but I can damn sure control what goes into my body."
It's a principle, a right people often exercise without consciously thinking about it, but which they will often deny to others, again without thinking about it. Some women who advocate abortion rights think motorcycle riders should be forced to wear helmets. The Supreme Court, replete with current and former tobacco smokers, doesn't want sick people smoking marijuana even if it will help them. Fundamentalist tee-totalers usually believe everyone else should be forced to live like them.
It was William Allen White who said it best: "Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others."
Thomas Jefferson and the other founders of our nation believed firmly that there were natural human rights far too numerous to name and list (and, yes, they failed miserably and totally in granting those rights to slaves, Native Americans, women, the young and the poor). But this right of biological autonomy, of bodily self-ownership is one of the most important of those inherent rights implied in the Declaration of Independence. Among the "self-evident truths" and "inalienable rights" contained in that document "are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
Can a person truly be happy, truly live, truly exercise full liberty if he or she does not have complete ownership and control over his or her own body? Of course not. The condition in which someone else owns or controls your body is called slavery, and a slave is not happy or at liberty.
There have been wars and social conflicts fought over the principle of biological autonomy. Slavery was not the only issue at dispute in the Civil War, but the question of bodily self-ownership was definitely a key factor in the War Between the States. Women had to take to the streets in huge numbers to gain basic rights such as voting simply because their bodies were equipped differently than men's. It took a gangster war in the streets to convince people to give up on Prohibition. Gays and blacks resorted to street protests and rioting to secure basic rights such as an end to institutionalized harassment. The cultural war over abortion continues. There is definitely a trend in our history to recognize the principle of biological autonomy.
America will not have fulfilled its destiny until every citizen feels empowered with the right of biological autonomy. Erasing laws against consensual sex and drug use is the final frontier in this 150-year struggle to fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence.
"Vices Are Not Crimes" is the title of a book by Lysander Spooner. "Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property," writes Spooner. "Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another."
The trend toward separating vices from crimes has already begun in this nation. Ten states have legalized marijuana in one form or another. Prostitution is legal in many Nevada counties. You can even gamble now in Colorado. But the May 14th decision from the U.S. Supreme Court which stated there was no "medical necessity exemption" to federal anti-marijuana laws just shows how much more work there is to be done.
Dr. Thomas Szasz, the only headshrinker whose opinions I respect, was almost prophetic in his 1992 book "Our Right to Drugs: The Case For A Free Market" when he wrote:"The laws that deny healthy people 'recreational' drugs also deny sick people 'therapeutic' drugs."