If you smoke or drink, that’s no longer your fault, it’s your genetics. You just inherited a predisposition for addiction. If you are obese, that’s no longer your fault, it’s a glandular problem, a metabolic disorder, or due to your genetically-caused diabetes. We have been pathologizing all of these problems that our society faces. The bottom line is that people need to take more responsibility for their health.
By pathologizing all these problems, people feel like these issues are not their fault. This can lead to a sense of helplessness, and people feel like they cannot do anything about these problems, and so they do not do anything about these problems. This functions as a positive feedback loop and only makes the problem worse. Also, they think that their only solution is medicine or surgery, which can have a lot of deleterious side effects and complications.
At the same time, I don’t want to generalize; there are situations where this doesn’t apply. Some people with diabetes are extremely overweight or underweight, and there is not much they can do to remedy this. Charles Fried, in Right and Wrong, goes so far as to say that “when the disadvantage is medical or educational it is a disadvantage to the person rather than to something which the person has done or chosen” (126). Essentially Fried argues here that a person’s medical problems are not that person’s fault. This seems to imply that most medical problems are genetic rather than environmental (i.e. caused by diet, lifestyle, etc.). He says that medical misfortune is misfortune to a person just like a fire can be misfortune to a house. In some cases this argument might be valid, but most of the time this is not the case. If this were how society viewed medical problems, then this would be a moral hazard. If people were not held responsible for their medical problems, then there would be less incentive for them to take care of their bodies because they feel that their medical problems are not their fault and that there is nothing they can do about them. From a scientific perspective, there are certainly some diseases that are genetic and are not the person’s fault; that’s just the card they were dealt. However, most diseases have at least some environmental component, so a person should take responsibility for their illness. Failure to do so will only worsen the obesity epidemic in the United States, which leads to heart disease and other cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and cancer. This, in turn, puts a strain on the health care system and causes us to spend even more money on health care. Therefore, by taking responsibility for our health, our citizens will not only be happier and healthier, but we will also partially remedy our health care spending crisis.