Rebutting John Stossel

I like most of what John Stossel says- seriously, I do.  But this time, he is just flat-out wrong.

Here’s the article in question:

Keep Your Laws Off My Body

March 3, 2010
By John Stossel,

In a free country, we consenting adults should be able to do whatever we want with our bodies as long as we don’t hurt anyone else.

“It’s a free country.”

That’s a popular saying — and true in many ways. But for a free country, America does ban a lot of things that are perfectly peaceful and consensual. Why is that?

Here are some things you can’t do in most states of the union: rent your body to someone for sex, sell your kidney, take recreational drugs. The list goes on. I’ll discuss American prohibitions tomorrow night at 8 and 11 p.m. Eastern time (and again on Friday at 10) on my Fox Business Network program.

The prohibitionists say their rules are necessary for either the public’s or a particular individual’s own good. I’m skeptical. I think of what Albert Camus said: “The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants.” Prohibition is force. I prefer persuasion. Government force has nasty unintended consequences.

I would think that our experience with alcohol prohibition would have taught America a lesson. Nearly everyone agrees it was a disaster. It didn’t stop people from drinking, but it created new and vicious strains of organized crime. Drug prohibition does that now.

The prohibitionists claim that today’s drugs are far more dangerous than alcohol.

But is that true? Or is much of what you think you know …wrong?

I believed the Drug Enforcement Administration’s claim that drugs like crack and meth routinely addict people on first use.

But Jacob Sullum, who wrote “Saying Yes”, says, “If you look at the government’s own data about patterns of drug use, it clearly is not true.”

The data is remarkable: 8.5 million Americans have tried crack, but there are only 359,000 regular users. (The government defines “regular use” as using a drug at least once in the past 30 days.) More than 12 million tried meth, but only 314,000 still take it. The story is similar for heroin. Most people who try these “instantly additive drugs” do not get “hopelessly addicted.” They give them up on their own.

As Sullum puts it: “The vast majority of people who use illegal drugs do not become heavy users, do not become addicts; it does not disrupt their lives. In fact, I would argue it enhances their lives. How do we know that? Because they use it.”

But on the news, we constantly see people whose lives have been destroyed by drugs. Sullum says: “When you have prohibition, the most visible users are the ones who are most anti-social, most screwed up. They’re the ones who come to the attention of the police. … People who present themselves as experts on drug use, because they come into contact with all these addicts, have a very skewed perspective because they are seeing a biased sample. The people who are well adjusted, responsible users are invisible.”

My prohibition show will also touch on prostitution. I want ratings — I admit it. Former prosecutor Wendy Murphy says prostitution is “sexual slavery.”

I think calling it slavery is an insult to those who’ve suffered real slavery. Slavery is force. Prostitution is consensual. On my show, I’ll let a former “sex worker” and the prosecutor fight it out.

The prohibitionists also ban the sale of human organs. You aren’t allowed to sell a kidney to someone who will die without one. Sally Satel, a physician who is the recipient of a kidney and the author of “When Altruism Isn’t Enough” (, says, “Altruism … is a beautiful virtue, but tomorrow at this time 13 people will be dead because they didn’t get a kidney.”

In a free country, we consenting adults should be able to do whatever we want with our bodies as long as we don’t hurt anyone else.

People who don’t like what we do have every right to complain about our behavior, to boycott, to picket, to embarrass us. Bless the critics. They make us better people by getting us to think about what’s moral. Let them mock and shame. But shaming is one thing — government force is another.

Prohibition means we empower the state to send out people with guns to force people to do what the majority says is moral. That’s not right.

And it doesn’t even work.

First, and foremost, your body is not “property.”

Most (if not all) Libertarians make this error when they discuss freedoms.  They equate a person’s body with something akin to a car or their favorite shirt.  However, you can be separated from your car or your socks, but if you are separated from your body you’re dead.  This, therefore, denies you the most fundamental right that you have: the right to Life.

You can always sell your car.  The government can seize your car, and (according to the principles upon which this nation was founded) and compensate you for the seizure.  You can be sued for the possession of your car, or the entity that sold you your car can repossess it at any time.  You can take out a loan and use your car as collateral.

None of these things you can do with your body.  Which is why, in the principles laid down by John Locke (pretty much the architect that the Founding Fathers used to lay out their core principles) you had a right to Life which was distinct of that for Property.  Someone can claim your car as compensation for any damages you may have committed, or you may even have to sell your car to pay for damages.  But sell your body?  That’s essentially slavery.

The “body as property,” argument, despite being childish, runs into the tiny problem that while you make have a right to property, property often comes and goes.  When we come into the world, we have NO property, being born nude and without all of the gadgets we acquire.  However, we ALWAYS have our bodies.  We acquire property as we age, but we never have to acquire our bodies.  Property can be damaged, property can be compensated for due to loss.  However, how are you going to be compensated if you lose your body?  You and your body are inseparable.  Thus, if no one has the right to claim any piece or part of your body, you therefore cannot willingly sell any piece or part of your body.  And, until they devise ways to re-grow lost limbs and organs, selling all or part of your body means a loss of “you” that cannot be compensated for.  Of course, once they have the capability to re-grow lost body parts, it sorta makes the need to purchase body parts from willing (and those willing to be compensated) null and void.

The saying, “you can’t take it with you,” is deeper than what it seems.

Plus, “body as property” runs into problems when it comes to pregnant women.  The major debate in this nation when it comes to things like abortion is the woman’s “right” to abort a “fetus.”  Well, at one point, that “fetus” is capable of surviving outside of the womb, thus making termination of said “fetus” outright murder.  Murder is one someone violates an individual’s inalienable right to Life.  The State executes criminals, and thus violates a right to Life, but then again the State also imprisons people, thereby violating their inalienable right to Liberty.  So, how did the Founding Fathers overcome this contradiction?  Simple: due process.  Rights cannot be removed without something known as Due Process, and in some cases, the specific means of Due Process is defined in various founding documents.  People like Adams and Jefferson knew what they were talking about.  Thus making virtually all forms of abortion-on-demand murder, because the “fetus” is given no due process before his / her inalienable right to Life is revoked.
So, you don’t have the “right” to an abortion.  And a woman has no absolute right to her body under the premise this it is her “property.”

So, if your body is not property, as I’ve clearly illustrated, it cannot be “rented,” you cannot “sell” it, and likewise is cannot be “confiscated” or even be put up for sale.  Thereby justifying the prohibitions against things like prostitution and slavery.

The exception is that you can “give away” your body (whole or in part) for whatever purpose, but that is an individual decision for which no Due Process is required.  You want to be someone’s slave – no problem.  You want to have sex with someone else, that’s your business.  Giving your body away, with the understanding that there is NO obligation for compensation, and that what you give away cannot be returned is perfectly acceptable.  Once wealth or property is transferred the act therefore becomes illegal.  That’s because of all the property you may own that is available for recompense, your body is literally off-limits as I’ve already shown.  An exchange of wealth or property is a two-way street.  You can’t put something out there for “rent,” unless you’re willing to give it up for “sale,” or it can be “confiscated.”  Period.

Now one can argue about the virtues and vices of drug use, as this does not trip into the notion of an individual’s body being their “property.”  People do all sorts of bad stuff to their bodies, or things that some people assume are bad for one’s body.  These value judgments are totally subjective.  Then again, if we go down that road, we then need to open up the purchase of things like antibiotics on the open market, and bypass the doctor’s script.  While in the libertarian view this is perfectly acceptable, it ignores that antibiotics are essentially poisons that have their consequences.  They damage bacteria more effectively than they damage your body.  The long view is that these items can not only cause damage to most people if not controlled, but will also create strains of resistant bacteria if used at much higher volumes when left as a item without purchase restrictions.  How does this benefit the libertarian individual?

It doesn’t.

This country was founded on Christian principles, which are founded on Jewish principles, which are detailed in the Torah.  Even John Locke starts out with the premise that your body is made in the image of God.  The lion’s share of prohibitions within the Torah are based on this very premise as well.  Your rights to Life, Liberty, Property, and the Pursuit of Happiness are all steeped in the notion that who you are is distinct, and above all notions of wealth and ownership.  You may own property, you may give away property, you may sell property, but you cannot sell yourself.  If someone steals from you, they violate your basic rights, as is with murder.  Thus, all laws and prohibitions are based off of morality.

It is unfortunate that many laws these days are based on a perverse sense of morality.


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