Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act Killed the Big Gulp

In a New York Times Op-Ed entitled 'Evolution's Sweet Tooth', Harvard biologist Daniel Lieberman attempts to make the argument that human evolution resulted in a desire for sweets that justifies the coercion Mayor Bloomberg is advocating for against 'Big Gulps' sold by delis, fast-food restaurants, movie theaters and the like.  From Lieberman's opinion piece (emphasis added):
...Until recently, all humans had no choice but to eat a healthy diet with modest portions of food that were low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, but high in fiber. They also had no choice but to walk and sometimes run an average of 5 to 10 miles a day. Mr. Bloomberg’s paternalistic plan is not an aberrant form of coercion but a very small step toward restoring a natural part of our environment...

...We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. We have evolved to need coercion.        
Professor Lieberman would benefit from reviewing famed biologist D'Arcy Thompson's observation ([E]verything is the way it is because it got that way) before using the science of biology/evolution to justify a social policy.  Until recently (using Lieberman's  evolutionary analysis in a social policy setting), individuals were responsible for carrying the burden of their health decisions.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) of 1986 resulted in the unintended consequences of Happy Meals being banned, preschoolers having homemade sandwiches replaced with nuggets, and Bloomberg's ban on large soda drinks. The EMTALA requires emergency rooms to treat anyone that asks for treatment, regardless of their ability to pay; a 'humane' policy that's abused by freeloaders.

The act is the sine qua non ('chicken-to-the-egg') of Mr. Bloomberg's nanny state.  Were-it-not for the cost shifting of irresponsible health choices by individuals to the greater society allowed by EMTALA, Mayor Bloomberg would have no justification to tell anyone how big a soda they can gulp.

Humane social policies are ultimately paid for with limits on freedom.


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