Throughout the national debate on health care reform this year, I have been perplexed by one question: why are some so determined to trade their freedom for the promise of government-backed health care? Why would they relinquish their self-determination to become, essentially, wards of the state?

Throughout the national debate on health care reform this year, I have been perplexed by one question: why are some so determined to trade their freedom for the promise of government-backed health care? Why would they relinquish their self-determination to become, essentially, wards of the state?

It seems to me that there are three groups of people involved in the debate: Those who want to wield power over others; those who hope to be recipients of tax-supported government largesse without truly understanding what is at stake; and those who want to make their own medical decisions and bear the consequences of their choices.

The approval of H.R. 3962, the “Affordable Health Care for America Act,” by the House of Representatives on Nov. 7 was a victory for the first two groups.

The irony is that most Americans of group two regard this direction as progressive – “finally catching up to the rest of the world” – when, in fact, we have been ahead of the rest of the world since our nation’s founding in 1776.

Riding the crest of Enlightenment ideas, the United States of America was the first nation in history to recognize that every man is a sovereign being, endowed by virtue of his rational nature with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Other nations throughout history regarded its citizens as mere property of the ruler(s), the state, or society; but the charter documents of the United States, proclaiming the ideal of liberty, established a limited government, the purpose of which was to secure the rights of the individual against force or fraud by others. (Note: Slavery was practiced around the world in the 18th century; the abolition movement was nascent at the time of our country’s founding.)

For the first time, a man was free to rise as high in life as his intellect, ability and ambition could take him. His life and property were protected by law. The result of this freedom was the most rapid improvement in man’s standard of living since his emergence from the cave. The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw the advent of such inventions and advancements as the telegraph, reaper, sewing machine, skyscrapers, perfection of the suspension bridge, the camera and photograph, electric light, the airplane, the television, and commercialization of the automobile.

The linchpin of this prosperity was the freedom to profit.

Regrettably, government retained the legal power to initiate force against its citizens through regulation of industry and trade. This allowed and encouraged the exponential growth of government bureaucracy, and eventually opened the door to the welfare state. For example, in 2007 the Code of Federal Regulations of the federal government comprised 145,816 pages, imposing an estimated burden – in effect, a regulatory tax – of $1.1 trillion.

In addition to that code, there are 132,000 pages of Medicare rules and regulations. H.R. 3962, as approved, would add $600 billion in new taxes, an estimated $34 billion in unfunded mandates, and create 111 new bureaucracies in the bargain.

The push for government takeover of health care is obviously not about saving money; it will not and cannot. It is not about providing access to medical care, because that already exists. It is a power grab by group number one, made possible by the naïveté of group number two.

The nearly unfettered operation of the free market in our early history created unparalleled prosperity. Capitalism, the economic system compatible with freedom, holds the cure for our health care ills today; tort reform, repeal of trade barriers created by insurance licensing laws, and expansion of health savings accounts are good places to start.

Will the American way of life – freedom – be preserved, or will we become the property of a shackled, collectivist state? As the Senate debates the issue in the coming days, they should be guided by the physician’s maxim, “First, do no harm.”

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