Public Policy- Regulating Individual Choices

Words from Orakidorm

By Stevenson Kuartei

 Radio Australia couple days ago reported that a South African man was facing deportation from New Zealand for being too fat. His name is ‘Too Fat’ Chef Albert Buitenhuis. He was given a 23-month reprieve to stay in New Zealand but he was told that he “will have to meet any health costs himself” if he gets ill. During the same news broadcast by Radio Australia, the Governor of Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea has put out a decree to outlaw chewing of betelnut in the whole city except for a few identified places.  When the Ministry of Health was declared a “chew free zone”, there was a public outcry when in reality there was already an existing law that prohibits chewing of betelnut and smoking in government offices. A well-educated gentleman once made the following statement, “people should be left alone to make individual choices without the government regulating things such as tobacco use”.

Does the government have the role of protecting its citizens? The answer is obviously affirmative. Can a government refuse visa extension based on “fattiness” as New Zealand did? Is “fattiness” a right? What about declaring a city “chew free zone”, can government do that? Is chewing of betelut a right? What happens when the right of individuals to choose whatever they want to do begin to infringe on other people? For example; should the members of SDA who do not smoke be paying taxes to help people who develop lung cancer from smoking?

The mandate of the government is to protect its citizens, which include the protection individual rights because these rights are engraved in our constitution. Some of these rights are absolute, some are fundamental and some are framed within the context of arbitration. However, just because you have the right to speak, that right doesn’t allow you to stand in a crowd and yell “fire” when there is no fire. There is also a huge confusion between what are privileges and what are rights. In Palau, there are a lot people who are given privileges and they choose to behave as if what they were given are rights. Individual have the right to choose or to make any choice. While they have the right choose to smoke, smoking is not a right but a privilege. Just as an individual has the right to choose not to smoke, but not smoking is a privilege. The right to choose to smoke does allow one to blow smoke on anyone, thus a public policy of “no smoking” to control the conflicts of privileges.

The right to make individual choices should be linked to an inherent expectation that such individual will also be held responsible for the consequences of such choices. In our society, that is not the case. That is why our government should be held accountable to regulate the environment where rights are protected and privileges do not violate each other. As long as there is the right to choose without accountability to the consequences, there is truly no right of choice. This is the only way the government can justify social services such as the National Health Insurance, where everyone pool their resources to assist those who are in need. Some of those who are in need of health services such as medical referral, exercised their right to choose unhealthy lifestyle. The consensus to assist each other is based on the fact that we allow for public policies that might seem to limit our rights to choose. These public policies are to guide and make some of our choices easier and healthier which will limit the utilization of support from those who choose healthy lifestyle. Perhaps the taxi drivers will soon start charging all of us based on our “fattiness”, the “fattiness fare”.

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