Monday, January 4, 2010

Freedom? Health?

What is freedom?

What is personal freedom? How does this relate to health? And what about groups? Families, organizations, religions, etc. do they have rights of freedom as a group? Should they? And what about the ‘state’. Is the government ‘free’ to do as it wishes?

Freedom is a very complex idea. Wiki gives many definitions,

Freedom may refer to:
 Freedom (philosophy), the idea of being free.
 Freedom (political), the absence of interference with the sovereignty of an individual
 Four freedoms, Roosevelt's freedoms of (1) speech and (2) belief, along with the freedom from (3) fear and (4) want.
 Liberty, the condition in which an individual has the ability to act according to his or her own will
 Economic freedom, a term in economic research and policy debates
 Free content, freedom of an artistic work to be redistributed, modified, and studied by others
 Individual freedom, the moral stance, political philosophy, or social outlook that stresses independence and self-reliance
 Statue of Freedom, on top of the U.S. Capitol dome in Washington, D.C.

As always, the official word is wanting... Freedom is a term so broad that it cannot be constrained by definitions. It can be explored by definitions.
What are our rights to freedom?

I love the quote from John Ralston Saul “Freedom - an occupied space which must be reoccupied every day.
Freedom is not something that ‘once attained is owned’. It is like peace, sometimes it is necessary to use force to maintain your freedom.
I deliberately chose the words ‘personal health freedom’ to distinguish my concept from ‘individual freedoms’. Corporations and cats are individuals, but they are not people.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
—Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

It is clear we cannot define freedom precisely. However, in the context of ‘personal health’, a useful definition of freedom is not difficult.

If a ‘person’ believes that a specific action will affect their health, in a way they want to affect their health – they should be free to take that action.

Freedom is freedom to act. Freedom to choose. To open a door, climb a wall, or, in the words of John Ralston Saul – to occupy a space. Personal health freedom is freedom to take actions that affect your health.

Note: I did not argue to take actions that ‘improve’ my health. That would be too simple. It would also leave the door open for opposition on the basis that ‘this’ action might not improve my health. Most, if not all actions that ‘improve your health’ can also cause poor health in certain situations. Many things that improve short term health, can lead to severe problems in the long term. Examples range from drinking water to taking painkillers. Every health decision has positive and negative aspects. Only the person who is ultimately ‘affected’ can make the decision.

Now we are getting dangerous... What if, someone argues that whatever they want to do is ‘for their health’ – and therefore they must be ‘free’ to act. In theory, they can do whatever they want.

Hmm.. What is the opposite of ‘freedom’? My thesaurus says: captivity, confinement, imprisonment, incarceration, limitation, servitude, slavery. I think we’re talking about ‘limitations’ as the opposite of ‘personal health freedom’.
Limitations has two main meanings, one of which is not relevent. Limitation: restraint, disadvantage

bar, block, check, condition, constraint, control, cramp, curb, impediment, inhibition, injunction, obstruction, reservation, restriction, stricture, taboo

What if someone wants to ‘smoke cigarettes’ for the short term ‘healthy feeling’ they get, even though in the long term, smoking damages their health? We permit them to smoke. To make their own health decisions, negative and positive.

What if someone wants to take an action, or treatment, that some people believe is ‘negative’, because they believe it will provide temporary, or permanent benefit?

Does our society need a way to constrain health freedom? And what constraints are reasonable?

Suddenly our discussion of ‘personal health freedom’ becomes a discussion of limitations, constraints, restrictions and taboos. We need a new blog for that discussion.
Tracy is the author of two book about healthicine: