Freedom, friends, and owning responsibility

I found this in the archives, and thought it worth resurrecting. It’s from my more active days, about 5 years ago. It addresses the meme of personal responsibility, and I’m still a huge fan of that.

I was an ER nurse and, regarding seatbelts — not to mention motorcycle helmets — I can say that those of us on the front lines know that sometimes the seatbelts cause a death. It’s in roughly these proportions, if you like to gamble with money, too:

You place a bet that can go only two ways, so it’s a pretty straightforward bet. You can bet between 50% and 100% of your lifespan’s worth, including house, car, future houses and cars, your, your spouse’s, and your children’s potential lifetime earnings, everything. Lots of money on the line. When these magic 2-sided dice roll, here’s the breakout:

Betting against seatbelt/helmet, odds of winning are maybe 1 in 3,000. Losing, which 2,999 times out of 3,000 is what’ll happen, means you lose 50-100% of your and your family’s lifetime worth. Gone.

Now, personally, I’m a huge fan of personal responsibility — a HUGE fan. Pre-injury, I used to ride a motorcycle, and I longed to take my helmet off.

My pretty ride overlooking the Monterey Bay. This picture doesn’t show the full-faced helmet and full leather I rode in.

The only reason I didn’t do so on public roads is because I really couldn’t provide for all that protection. I was a stellar rider, but I had no reason to suppose I’d be immune to the bad driving of others! And I honestly thought I had no right to expose my family, neighbors, and colleagues at the hospital to the huge potential for supporting the direct and indirect costs of my possible accident.

I never did well with the assumption that what I did occurred in a vacuum. I’m very connected to others and they to me, and as far as I can tell, most humans are.

So I had this great idea about 20 years ago, which has never come to pass: Special license plates!

If you have

  • full catastrophic coverage,
  • comprehensive long-term-care coverage,
  • adequate liability insurance,
  • complete prescription coverage,
  • a completed will, and
  • a life insurance policy that would make sure your children, pets, crippled aunt, and other dependents would not become wards of the state …

… THEN you get the special plate, and everyone knows you can leave off any protective devices the law would otherwise require.

It’s only fair: it alleviates the cost to the state, which would pay for the program right there; it affords that liberty to those who are mature enough to fulfill their responsibilities to the rest of their world; and it lets the other drivers on the road know that you’re more vulnerable than they are (mostly) so they might cut you a break. Or not. But that’s their call — their responsibility.

Similar thing for smokers. The bans started after the passive-smoking reports were published, not before. I have no problem with grownups buying and using their own drugs, but it’s important to take responsibility for the whole shmear, not just the part you like.

In short, smoke all you want, but keep the poison to yourself. Ride or drive as naked as you want, but don’t make the rest of us pay.

I’m not a scientist or a policy wonk, I’m a frontliner with the scars to show for it. I passionately believe in rights — but not without responsibilities.

Just a thought.

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