Whose Body is it Then?
by Brian C. Bennett

George Orwell may have gotten the year wrong, but his warnings about "Big Brother" have entirely been vindicated. In 21st century America, both newspeak and newthink are alive and well. How else can we explain that American citizens no longer view their bodies and minds as their own, but rather act as though "Property of U.S. Government" has been tattooed on their rumps?

Many ugly things have happened in America while it has waged its "war on drugs," but none is more pernicious than the wholesale claim it has made over the bodies and minds of the once free citizenry. You may not have paid a lot of attention to the latest anti-drug commercials first aired during the past Super Bowl, but you probably got the gist: drugs are bad, bad people use drugs, terrorists get money from drugs, you're bad and support terrorists if you use drugs. The next time the commercial runs, pay attention to this line: "my body, my choice." Our government clearly believes otherwise. Implicit in their anti-drug spot is that you indeed no longer can claim to "own" yourself.

Let's think about this for a moment. If it isn't me that "owns" my body and thus possess the authority to make decisions over what I do with it, then who does? How else can we really explain the drug war other than in terms that clearly indicate that our government has decided for itself that it and it alone is the authority over self-directed activities? This should scare every American to the core of their beings - for that is what has been taken from them.

In our society, it seems that we have a very clear assumption that an individual is the sole authority for what acts are directed of his own will upon his person. After all, if you visit a doctor, that learned and esteemed individual is not "allowed" by law to do anything to you without first acquiring your permission. You are the empowered authority who can choose to sign on the dotted line and allow your fellow citizen to drug you unconscious, cut you open and perform unspeakable acts upon you. There even exists a legal doctrine called "power of attorney" which you can sign of your own free will to designate another human to make medical decisions for you in the event that you are incapable of doing so yourself.

This notion is further extended to cover your economic affairs. Only you have the power to commit yourself to contracts, to take loans and to become "owner" of real estate. No one else is imbued with the authority to make these legal entanglements on your behalf unless you yourself have previously empowered them to do so. Where is the paperwork demonstrating that the citizens have signed themselves over to the government?

How then, can we explain laws which control who you have sexual relations with, what specific acts those relations entail, and what substances you choose to place in your body for your own amusement?

I frequently read the U.S. Constitution, and nowhere in that document can I find any evidence at all that the citizens have surrendered this choice making behavior to their governors. Yet, here we are, hunting down and jailing our fellow citizens over acts they commit willingly upon themselves or with willing others. This leads me to some even more disturbing thoughts.

If our government has the power to deny us our self-directed behaviors, how is it possible for us to teach our children that their bodies belong to them and that no one else is allowed to do anything to them? Could we have lower rates of child sexual abuse if children came to understand that they truly "own" themselves and may not be coerced into allowing actions to be committed upon them against their will?

On the other hand, if our government "owns" us, shouldn't that be reflected somewhere in our societal charter? The 13th Amendment to the Constitution quite clearly states that owning another human is illegal except for when the person has committed a "crime." Exactly what sort of "crime" is it to do things to yourself? And why only things you do to yourself to produce pleasure? Is it really a crime to choose your own intoxicants, life partners and sexual activities? To whom should we turn for "permission" to touch ourselves in an impure manner? Aren't laws concerning sexual behavior and intoxicant use the grown-up version of "mom! Billy's picking his nose"?

If we tacitly agree that the government has this power despite the fact that there is no evidence that the citizens have surrendered their free will, do we really have any power of self anymore? Can't the government just control us even more, perhaps in the name of "national security" or some other notion?

As long as go along for the ride on this, how can we stop our government from deciding what schools we attend or what we study? I saw on the news a few days ago that America faces a critical shortage of nurses, and as a result more people are dying who might otherwise survive were there only enough skilled medical professionals. Can't the government start forcing people into nursing? Since we don't "own" ourselves, where can the line be drawn? What power do "we the people" possess to prevent the government from doing so?

For me, the line is already cleanly drawn: it is the surface of my skin. Until such time as someone shows "proof of ownership" for my body and mind, I will make my own decisions and do whatever I wish to myself. I am very clear in this, and you should be too. On the other hand, if I can find my "owner" then perhaps I can stop paying my bills.

Written Aug 12, 2002

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