Death panels, euthanasia, and the conservative embrace of herd immunity
By Scott Sumner
I don’t have an ax to grind here, but I’ve noticed an anomaly and wonder if commenters see the same issue.
I’ve always thought of the left as being vaguely “pro-life” on issues like pollution control and national health care. The right seems “pro-life” in its opposition to Medicare “death panels”, euthanasia, and of course abortion.
Conservative views are often informed by religion, and there’s a clear hostility to the cold utilitarian calculation embodied in death panels and euthanasia. The idea of viewing old people as disposable, or the idea of saying, “it’s not worth spending $X to save grandma” seem especially repugnant to conservatives. This group often criticizes countries in northwestern Europe that have a more “utilitarian” approach to death. To many conservatives, life is sacred.
Given these perceptions, I would not have expected so many conservatives to embrace the view that its OK to trade off the lives of a few hundred thousand mostly old people in exchange for a few trillion dollars more in GDP (and, in fairness, more freedom as well.) Note that this freedom argument could be called “pro-choice”. My partying may kill grandma, but “it’s my body, my choice”.
Just to be clear, I’m not arguing here that conservatives are right or wrong on any of these views. I’m not even sure that the views conflict. I’m also not sure that I fully understand the views of “conservatives” as a whole, a label that includes people as diverse as pro-life Catholic supporters of the welfare state and pro-choice libertarian atheists.
So maybe there is no contradiction here at all.
Another possibility is that conservatism is evolving in a new direction. We know that ideologies change all the time. Liberals have been on both sides of eugenics, free trade, free speech, and a host of other issues. Why shouldn’t conservatism evolve as well?