Libertarian Principles

William G. White, MD
Article Type: 
Spring 1997
Volume Number: 
Issue Number: 

Dear Editor,

Dr. Robert Carlen (Medical Sentinel, Winter 1997, page 5) states regarding abortion and euthanasia, “I think AAPS should follow its own libertarian principles instead of trying to get the government to interfere with the private decisions of patients and their doctors.” Dr. Carlen’s letter was magnificently answered by Dr. Orient and Dr. Faria, and I offer the following contribution to the conversation. I believe that the open exchange of ideas on these controversial issues does not weaken AAPS, but strengthens it.

As one whose opinions would probably be considered conservative socially and libertarian economically, I would disagree that libertarian principles allow for the legalization of abortion, euthanasia or any other killing of human beings, except those justly convicted of a capital crime, or who are enemies in a just war or in self-defense. (I distinguish between libertarian principles and the platform of the Libertarian Party.)

Libertarianism, as I understand it, does not call for no government, as does anarchism, but for limited government. Perhaps, today as we endure state and federal governments flooding far beyond the banks of reason, tradition, and constitution, it is tempting to try to restrict their functions in any way possible.

Government, however, does have legitimate purposes, namely the protection of life, liberty, and property. Without government, these fundamental rights of all are vulnerable to the predations of the strong. In such anarchic conditions might makes right, and freedom vanishes.

Thus, the legitimate purpose of the national government is the national defense, and that of state and local governments is the enforcement of laws prohibiting crimes against persons and property. All individual human beings, from conception to natural death, have an unalienable right, not granted by government, to the protection of these laws. Biologically, it is undeniable that, from the moment of fertilization, the embryo is an individual member of the human species. It is not for government or any other larger, stronger person to define away that individual’s fundamental rights by restricting legal “personhood,” whether on the basis of age, sex, race, or even citizenship.

Regarding euthanasia, the presumption of the state must always be for life, and even suicide has been traditionally prohibited. The wisdom of this prohibition is amply demonstrated by the current situation in Holland, where laws allowing supposedly voluntary euthanasia have led to widespread, well-documented, involuntary euthanasia.

The AAPS is entirely consistent with libertarian principles when it accepts a strictly circumscribed role for government in the defense of life, liberty and property.

William G. White, MD
Franklin Park, IL

Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 1997;2(2):41-42. Copyright ©1997Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).



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