Absolving Ourselves of Responsibility

Responsibility for ones actions was once a cut-and-dried concept. It clarified our value systems if the roots of those values were otherwise murky. One’s adherence to a religion might have instilled in him a set of values that said that murder was wrong, for instance. And if the imminence of the fiery pits if Hell were insufficient to remind him of this, at least the threat of retaliation from either the law or the victim’s kin might give him second thoughts. Suppose it was something less heinous. One might speculate on land or stocks, and soon thereafter see the market fall flat. No injustice was done; he was aware of the risks, and as such must take responsibility for them and find some way to eat in the absence of all the money he lost. So it goes with many choices in life, be they moral or fiscal choices.

In the modern age, however, this concept is beginning to unravel as technology and social norms offer alternatives to taking responsiblity for ones actions. In some cases there are arguably benefits to these alternatives. Government-provided aid keeps many from starving to death who might be penniless either from simply bad luck or bad choices in life. Safer cars might allow a commuter who causes a wreck in the process of driving and talking on a cell phone to walk away instead of being perhaps killed. Medical technology can save the life of someone suffering a heart attack caused by a lifetime of poor diet choices. These are but a few examples; there is one example however that is far more controversial, but all the same in that it allows one to make mistakes without facing the consequences.

On Thursday August 24, theUS Food and Drug Administration ruled that the “morning-after pill” which provides contraception up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, would be available sans prescription for women 18 and older. It will only be sold in pharmacies, however. Women under 18 may still be able to obtain the pill with a prescription. The pill, marketed under the name Plan B, is said to actually prevent pregnancy, unlike the much more controversial RU-486, which takes effect after pregnancy and causes an abortion up to 49 after pregnancy occurs.

Women’s advocacy groups considered the decision a victory, but one such group, Planned Parenthood, echoed the concerns of many in expressing dismay over the age restriction, saying it “is troubled by the scientifically baseless restriction imposed on teenagers. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the western world — anything that makes it harder for teenagers to avoid unintended pregnancy is bad medicine and bad public policy.” FDA head (pending almost certain Senate confirmation) Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach contended that “there isn’t enough scientific evidence that young teens can safely use Plan B without a doctor’s supervision.”

And so now, where once unprotected sex carried with it a significant possibility of pregnancy, well, one can always go to Plan B if things got a little out of hand the previous night and the contraceptives were forgotten. Teen pregnancy ostensibly will fall with this ruling, and that would be nice. That’s so American, to be able to make a bad choice and to be able to sidestep the consequences by spending a few bucks.

Maybe that’s okay. I’m just pointing out a trend.