Should Smokers and the Obese be Denied Medical Treatment – No

At first glance, it would seem perfectly acceptable to deny medical treatment to smokers and the obese. After all, why should we help those whose conditions have been caused by a lifetime of bad habits and self-destructive behavior? Well, the answer is a simple matter of humanity. It is the same reason why we help victims of natural disasters who chose to build homes on floodplains or in areas prone to hurricanes and wildfires. It is the same reason why we send rescue helicopters to save the lives of mountain climbers and skiers who willfully risk their lives just for the sake of excitement. We do it not because we approve or condone of their actions; we do it because we are a compassionate society who values human life. We do it because it is simply the right thing to do.

Smokers and the obese often make easy targets for those who argue against performing surgical procedures on those responsible for their health problems. Many of us wouldn’t think twice to deny health insurance to smokers or the obese, simply because we find the very acts of smoking or overeating to be offensive. Even if you consider an action such as smoking to be absolutely repulsive and deplorable, it does not give us the right as human beings to deny smokers medical services. We have every right to judge a person’s behavior, but at the same time we do not possess the right to determine who among us is worthy of life and who among us is worthy of death. After all, when a doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath, he is sworn to preserve life at all costs. The Hippocratic Oath does not give medical practitioners the right to decide who is worthy of treatment and who is not. The oath makes no distinction between smokers and non-smokers, alcoholics and teetotalers, or the obese and the fitness fanatics.

It is a ridiculous argument to say that those of us who partake in potentially dangerous lifestyles should be denied medical treatment. By that logic, the same people would have to argue that it is wrong to perform life-saving surgery on a race car driver who happens to crash into a wall. After all, wasn’t the race car driver responsible for his health problem when he decided to embark on a career that was potentially life-threatening? Or how about a football player who suffers a spinal cord injury after a vicious hit on the playing field? These same people would have to argue that the football player should be denied medical treatment because he willfully participated in a dangerous activity. One would have possess the compassion of a lump of rock to argue that these athletes should be turned away by a doctor, yet it is no different than turning away a smoker, a drug addict, an alcoholic, or the obese.

We can disapprove of a person’s actions, but we cannot deny someone medical treatment because of it. Chances are, many of us, at one time or another, has required medical attention as a result of our own irresponsible behavior. Perhaps we drove a little too fast and ended up hurting ourselves in a car crash. Maybe we tried to pet a stray dog and got bitten as a result, or accidentally shot ourself in the foot during a hunting trip. Perhaps we misread a label on a bottle in the medicine cabinet and swallowed the wrong pill by accident. Hospital emergency rooms are full of people who are there because of their own actions, just as smokers and the obese are there because of their own actions as well. In a world of humanity and compassion, we would all be entitled to the right to be treated for our diseases, self-inflicted or otherwise.