Saturday, January 07, 2006

This article on Slate posits the question, "Do the Poor Deserve Life Support?" Consider what this question presumes.

First, there must be some universal equation by which a person is measured against a material good (in this case life support) to which a person might have access. This equation necessarily has some moral component, given the use of the word "deserve," that measures a person based on some criteria tied to a person's economic status--it's implicit in the question that a poor person might not have a moral right to something by virtue of his economic status.

Second, there's someone with the authority (perhaps the responsibility) to make such a determination, which is, whether or not a given person should be given access, in this case, to life support. This someone must be other than the person himself, because otherwise the question is simply nonsensical.

The article itself discusses the poor with the assumption that something will be done for them. That is, the question isn't really whether or not money will be spent on the poor, but rather how such necessarily economic decisions should be made. There's some consideration of how the poor would spend such money, or perhaps what the preferences of the poor might be--perhaps spending money on insurance for life support wouldn't meet any particular poor person's daily considerations, e.g., no poor person would spend the money on such insurance if he needed shoes.

Of course, in practice, whether or not a person has access to any material good is certainly determined by their economic status. A wealthier person has access to more material goods than a poorer person. In a truly free society, whether or not a poor person had access to and would purchase any particular good would be determined by his own productive efforts and by his own decisions.

What's truly disturbing about this article, then, is not that it lacks compassion in considering something so important as life support on economic grounds, which would be the common complaint. Rather, it's disturbing that poor people, or any people, should be considered by others according to such criteria.

My answer to the question would be, "The poor deserve whatever they can buy," which is to say, whatever their productive efforts allow them to trade for with others.