What Freedom in the U.S. Really Means

Do I have a right to hurt myself?

Recent events with my 89-year-old father-in-law have precipitated interesting discussions around this question.

Let me set the stage.

A couple of months ago, he fell off a kitchen stool and injured his tailbone.

He couldn’t stand up afterward. After a day in the emergency room and even hospital admission, doctors couldn’t seem to find anything definitively wrong, so they sent him home.

He still couldn’t walk. The fall also affected his urinary function, creating borderline incontinence.

He went back to the hospital for further tests, but they still couldn’t find anything.

This time, though, they sent him to a short-term convalescent center, kind of a temporary nursing home. Of course, with COVID-19, nobody, including his wife and children, can visit him in there.

The first night, he fell out of bed and got some bruises.

When we asked why they didn’t put up the bedside rails, this was the response: “Federal law prohibits us from restraining patients.”

I’m not an attorney or an expert on these matters, but I know the hospital can and does indeed use the rails.

A few days later, he fell out of bed again and required bandages on his elbow.

Realize that none of his loved ones can enter the facility, advocate for him, assess his care… anything. All communication is via phone with the nurses and staff.

By now he’s confused, thinks his family has abandoned him and in moments of lucidity asks us (on the phone) if his children are still alive and if his wife is still around.

It’s a tragic, abusive set of affairs. But I’m wandering.

A Curious Freedom

In our discussions about the bed rails (which he likes in order to grab something to help him roll over), the staff is adamant that they cannot restrain him in any way.

At the end of one exasperating conversation, the nurse said, “Patients have the right to hurt themselves.”

These rail regulations went into effect when someone in a nursing home poked his head through his bed rail and hanged himself.

Rather than being called protective, the rails are now called restraints.

My, what ramifications occur with a simple change in designation.

I find this incredible “freedom” patients have to hurt themselves profoundly curious in a day of constant intervention on behalf of safety.

In the name of protection, we require motorcycle helmets, seat belts, food inspections, drug wars…

The list could go on forever. In fact, the list is so long that an outsider would assume that as a culture, Americans have no right to hurt themselves.

This is yet another example of why bureaucratic rules inherently create hypocrisies and inconsistencies, which inevitably lead to distrust and consternation.

Those of us who tend libertarian see our whole country awash in what I call “freedom in name only.”

And yet, in the most preposterous circumstances – such as a nursing home patient constantly falling out of bed – rules invoke freedom in a macabre way. The rules actually preclude the staff from intervening on the most basic protective level.

Have we actually become this unreasonable?

What If?

This whole episode makes me wonder what would happen if this “freedom to hurt yourself” were applied throughout the nation.

What if we truly embraced it?

It would mean I could buy food from my neighbor without a bureaucratic stamp of approval on the package.

Goodness, it might even let me buy food that’s not labeled or even in a package.

Fancy that.

An ongoing lobby effort in the livestock sector is trying to get the USDA to invoke antitrust action against the control of the three or four players at the top of the meat and poultry supply. Federal action against outfits like Tyson requires showing collusion and bullying, which is hard to prove.

Why not simply invoke the right for us to harm ourselves… and let folks buy food from whomever they choose?

That freedom would break the back of the large food conglomerates overnight. It wouldn’t require any court action, taxpayer money or anything.

You fight monopolies with market freedom.

What a novel idea.

If it works in nursing homes, it ought to work for a glass of raw milk or homemade ice cream.

What It Means

If the right to hurt ourselves were universally applied, it would certainly mean we could take any drug of our choice – prescription, illicit or otherwise.

It would mean we could buy and sell the food of our choice from the source of our choice.

It would mean we could build a house on our property the way we want to build it without bureaucratic licenses.

We could even buy snake oil if we wanted to. We could use alternative cancer therapies.

Wow, it would mean a lot of things.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the right to hurt ourselves?

Pity that we won’t until we get into a nursing home.

Would you embrace a “right to hurt yourself” in order to have more freedom? Share your thoughts at mailbag@manwardpress.com.

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