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Public health vs individual freedom

Duration:
43 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 12 February 2014

When should society step in and save us from ourselves? Our apparently insatiable appetites for smoking, drinking and eating are all in the news this week, but where and how should we draw the line between individual freedom and public health? Is it purely a utilitarian calculation; that the consequences are such a drain on the national purse that we can no longer afford the luxury of letting people do what they want? Or does that just reduce the value of our bodies to the lowest common denominator - the bottom line on a balance sheet? And even if we could afford it, should the common good outweigh individual freedom? Is expecting other people to pay for the consequences of our own behaviour immoral? And what if we could invent a cheap and effective pill to allow us to drink as much as we want without suffering a hangover, or eat what we like without the risk of diabetes? We might herald the scientific advance, but would it make us better humans? Is there something morally, as well as corporally corrupting about defiling our bodies with intoxicants and excess? Or does that sound hopelessly Victorian and censorious in an age that has come to prize self-indulgence and hedonism almost as much human rights? Are policies to control our appetites the worst kind of nanny-statism that punishes the responsible and infantilises the rest or a sensible response to a public health crisis?

Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Matthew Taylor.

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