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I saw a question on the care of mentally ill people and this question is somewhat related. What is the objectivist position on the care and support of people that are severely disabled and cannot care for themselves? Imagine a paraplegic or someone born with severe disabilities. In the extreme case, this includes people who are no longer able to feed themselves and have to rely on others to maintain their lives. If a family is unwilling/unable to care for a person and no charity is available, what is to become of the disabled individual if the government/society etc. is not the "carer of last resort" ? There are several cases of this kind of situation that we see and some make it to the news. I know there is no concept of "duty" but in the degenerate case, this would seem to imply that leaving the disabled to die is quite an acceptable position under Objectivism since there is no obligation to support anyone. Can someone clarify this situation?

asked Dec 06 '11 at 19:08

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


You provide the answer to your own question when you say

"people who are no longer able to feed themselves ... have to rely on others to maintain their lives"

In a realistic situation, family and friends would take care of those who could not take care of themselves. If that is not possible, then there are myriad charities that could step in and take care of the disabled. You, however, stipulate in your question that all of the possible avenues for caring for the disabled (other than government initiated force) are cut off, and then ask "what result?" The result would be that the person will perish.

Note, however, that your stipulation is extremely unrealistic. In a rational, free society there will almost always be someone willing to help those who need it. They will do it, however, not out of sacrificial duty, but because it is in their interest to do so. Note that your stipulation that nobody would come to the person's aid in an egoistic society presupposes that it is in no one's interest to help a disabled person. This is certainly not true---a rational person recognizes the immense value that other human beings represent to him. A rational person seeks his interest as his ultimate goal, but does not think that others' interests are irrelevant to his; often acting in our best interest requires acting in the best interest of another person as well. Objectivism merely rejects that this is or should always be the case.

However, if, for some reason, no one is able help the person, then the only alternative is death. Why does this possibility bother you so much? Probably because you recognize the value of human lives that I referred to earlier, and are pained to see such value lost---and yet you do not believe that others will see that same value? I assure you they will.

But, however sad the loss of the disabled person's life makes us, it is not nearly as terrible as the destruction wrought by unleashing the power of the state against men. Consider the monstrous evil that is the welfare state---that healthy men must be shackled to support someone else. That the energy of a healthy man's life must be drained away from him in order to support another. That the healthy not be allowed to live---fully live as a human being---so that another person can also not fully live as a human being. All held down to the level of subhuman survival.

Ultimately nobody has a duty to support another human being (unless they accept that duty voluntarily, for example, by becoming a parent). Every person, however, does have a right to take the actions necessary to live. That right cannot be violated merely in the name of another persons need, however tragic that need may be.


I thought of one last thing I wanted to add. The disabled benefit almost beyond comprehension from freedom. Consider the life of a disabled person today, and compare it to the life a disabled person in another era (or today in a third world country). We have motorized wheel chairs. We have computers. We have modern medicine. There are jobs almost any disabled person can do today and earn a living, thus freeing them (at least partially) from the dependance that would otherwise have been their doom in another era. All of these things are the fruit of freedom. In a statist (unfree) societies, such invention, industrial growth, division of labor, and immense creation of value are smothered. Thus, a person who is truly concerned with the plight of the disabled must argue for freedom rather than welfare.

answered Dec 06 '11 at 22:19

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited Dec 06 '11 at 22:33

Thanks for taking the time to answer. I appreciate your well considered and thoughtful response. You are correct that it pains me to see human life even potentially perish (what if the disabled person eventually recovers and becomes a great inventor/businessman ?). You do raise some very solid ideas.

(Dec 06 '11 at 22:26) Danneskjold_repo Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image

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Asked: Dec 06 '11 at 19:08

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Last updated: Dec 06 '11 at 22:33