A young friend of mine—not so young, really, he’s in his 50s by now—recently raised a question in one of his posts about the pandemic: “Consider the tragic fact that some, perhaps the larger percentage, of the Covid-19 deaths, took ZERO responsibility for their own health and well-being during their lives. There are always convenient reasons for not prioritizing your fitness. If a chronically unhealthy person dies because they were easier to kill, who is most responsible?” He went on to add, “My original post concerned personal responsibility and self-reliance. The strong individual controls what he/she can amid a countless number of uncontrollable factors. If a person is unhealthy by choice and this disease kills them, that person is most responsible.”
It’s the classic free will argument, the foundational belief of Libertarians and others, that what we get in life results entirely from our choices.
My grandmother had insulin-dependent diabetes. I watched her roll up her stocking and inject herself in her thigh. That took courage, I thought. Did she choose the hardships she endured during the Depression, watching her children suffer from lack of food? She was never obese. Did she choose the diabetes? She’d have been at extreme risk in this pandemic.
Another example was a buddy from childhood. He had diabetes by his 60s, a result of obesity, bad diet, unhealthy lifestyle, drugs, alcohol, prison food… you name it. He stroked out at age 64. If he had survived until this year, COVID-19 would surely have killed him. A perfect illustration of my younger friend’s point. Except… my buddy didn’t choose to grow up with an abusive mother that warped his decision-making abilities, or to be hit broadside by a delivery truck that ran a stop sign at 60 miles an hour and left him with traumatic brain injury. Those things led him down the path that eventually killed him. He had choices along the way, and made the wrong ones. He could have chosen differently, but the odds were against him.
I could find plenty of examples and statistics regarding health problems in the population. Nothing is as simple as he makes it. If I go for a run in a quiet suburb and happen to get shot by some nut, was my choice to go out responsible for my death? More to the point, if I choose to compensate for clinical depression by overeating and die from the resulting diabetes, did I choose that? I would say that it was an unforeseen consequence, not a choice.