Friday, April 30, 2010

What happened to the right to privacy?

I thought it was bad when Congress passed, for the first time ever, a law that required Americans to purchase a particular good or service and the president signed it. I thought it was ridiculous when a lawmaker in California tried to ban toys in fast food kids' meals as a way to fight obesity. I was deeply troubled when I learned the president was in favor of a national database of DNA for arrested (whether they were guilty or innocent) individuals, as well as a national ID card. Can anyone see the irony in a president who thinks American citizens should have their "papers" on them, but that those who wouldn't even have them (i.e., illegal immigrants) shouldn't even be questioned about it?

Now, though, an assemblyman in New York wants to make the default answer to the question of whether you are an organ donor "yes". Forgive the expression, but this guy wants to take our very guts out of our bodies once we die unless we specifically opt out beforehand. I'm not squeamish, but it took even me a while to check the "yes" box next to the organ donor question on my driver's license. Why? Because it's my body, and I have every right to keep what I want. It is not the property of anyone but me, and least of all the state. I eventually marked yes, as I do believe in helping those who need it. On the other hand, I firmly believe the default position should be "no".

What two things do all these lawmakers and executives have in common? One, they've all come out in firm and vocal support of measures that violate at least some aspect of a fundamental right to privacy. After all, how we take care of our bodies, our children, and our finances are all extremely personal decisions. Two, they're all Democrats. I came a bit late to the party, so to speak, and I got my early political education on "The American President" and "The West Wing". Both featured Democrats as heroes fighting for the little guy, upholding personal liberty and the Constitution as well as the nebulous "right to privacy" that nobody could really define, but they all knew exactly what they were talking about when they mentioned it. Well, I guess they must have "known" that a right to privacy didn't include matters of personal health, raising our children without government interference, walking down the street without needing "papers", or a right to keep our organs inside our bodies without having to apply for it beforehand.

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