Saving Lives vs. Restricting Lives
Understanding the difference is a matter of life, death and freedom
What does it mean to save a life?
If you see someone in an emergency that is likely to cost them their life and you intervene to directly prevent their death, you have saved their life. If you pull someone out of a burning building, or administer CPR to someone in cardiac arrest, or perform a surgery to remove a deadly tumor, then you will have saved their life.
Life-saving acts involve only the people being saved and the people saving them. They do not involve other people.
What does not count as saving a life?
A broad restriction on the lives of everyone, intended to reduce deaths, is something different from “saving a life”. In these cases, there is not a dying person who needs an intervention to save their life. There are statistical probabilities of deaths from certain causes which the restriction aims to reduce. For example, enacting speed limits is intended to reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents and in turn the number of deaths from these.
Unlike saving lives, when it comes to restrictions, we cannot point to any particular person and say “your life was saved by this restriction on everyone”. We cannot know which people would have died without the restriction.
Just as we cannot know who’s life was saved by a restriction, we also cannot know what side-effects they had and on whom. If we outlawed automobiles altogether, we would reduce the deaths from traffic fatalities, but we also would set in motion other events that lead to other deaths and to an overall reduced quality of life for just about everyone.
Some restrictions are very reasonable. Low speed limits in school zones make a worthwhile tradeoff between taking a few seconds more to pass a school and reducing deaths of children too young to know not to wander on to the road.
But broad restrictions, enacted without sufficient consideration for their side effects, cannot be reasonably justified.
Lately, restrictions have gone way beyond what is reasonable or justifiable. The response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been to enact one restriction after another claiming that it is saving lives. But this is not “saving lives”. It is restricting lives.
The front line workers aiding severely ill patients are indeed saving lives. However, the experts and politicians who enact restrictions are not saving lives. They are restricting lives. They have overreacted in the severity and duration of these restrictions, and they have neglected the extent of the side effects. As a result of these restrictions, billions of people have been hard hit economically. Billions have reduced access to health care. Billions are losing social contact with friends, family, coworkers and even the strangers who may someday become friends or family. Billions are suffering as a result of these restrictions.
These side effects cost lives. Undiagnosed, treatable diseases are leading to deaths. Deaths by suicides are increasing. And deaths aren’t the only thing. A lower quality of life is also a terrible price to pay and a cost of precious days and months of countless lives.
Worse, many experts and politicians are enforcing unreasonable restrictions which hardly reduce any probable deaths. For example, in many jurisdictions there are requirements that immunized or recovered people quarantine after travel, or that they wear masks in public, even though these people present little threat of transmission. There is talk of “vaccine passports” that would restrict unvaccinated people from re-entering society, even after everyone who wanted and needed a vaccine had received one, and are thus not at significant risk from the unvaccinated.
Wave after wave of restrictions have worn us down and many of us are accepting of each new restriction, having bought the line that the goal is saving lives. But we must instead draw the line, and start stepping back these restrictions.
We must differentiate restrictions on lives from the saving of lives. We want to save lives. We do not want to unreasonably restrict them.
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