I believe that we have a moral obligation to be healthy. If that first sentence has raised your hackles, just hear me out. Give me the 10-20 minutes it will take you to read this blog and then fire back at me, if you’d still like to do so.
What does it mean to be “healthy”? Do you need to be a professional bodybuilder or an Olympian? Do you need to avoid all food containing added sugar for the rest of your life? No, of course not.
For the purposes of this blog, I am going to define health as “being free of disease, or taking active steps to reduce the severity of an already present disease, even if those steps are not in line with the best available research”. This is far from a perfect definition, but let’s work with it today and by the end of this post, let’s see how you feel about my initial claim that we have a moral obligation to be healthy.
The first part of the definition is easy to picture: “a person free of disease”….does not have any diagnosed diseases. The second part of the definition is a little trickier. “…taking active steps to reduce the severity of an already present disease, even if those steps are not in line with the best available research.” Let’s break this second part down a little further, shall we?
Taking Active Steps
By this statement, I mean that the person is doing something. Whether that be exercising, taking a pill, eating certain foods…whatever! There is an action being taken.
…to reduce the severity of an already present disease….
So the disease is there, it’s diagnosed. And now with that knowledge the person is taking active steps (already discussed) to lessen the intensity of said disease. The specific focus of those active steps is to reduce the severity of the disease.
….even if those steps are not in line with the best available research.”
The person is doing something, with the specific purpose of reducing the severity of the disease, and those actions may or may not be agreed upon to be the best thing to do to combat the disease. The person may have changed to a “heart healthy diet” or he or she may be trying some herbal root tea that a friend recommended. Bottom line: the person is doing something with the specific goal of decreasing the severity of the disease in question.
Let’s divert from the abstract, and give some concrete examples of “health” by my definition.
Example 1: A man goes to the doctor for a checkup. His blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office is 160/94 and it is consistently at this value on three consecutive visits. Consequently, he is diagnosed with hypertension. As a result, his doctor recommends that he take a blood pressure medication. The man fills the prescription and takes the medication as prescribed.
By my definition, this man is healthy. Whether or not his blood pressure lowers as a result of his actions, he is healthy.
Let’s take this same man but change a variable:
Example 2: A man goes to the doctor for a checkup. His blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office is 160/94 and it is consistently at this value on three consecutive visits. Consequently, he is diagnosed with hypertension. The doctor recommends that he take a blood pressure medication. The man refuses the blood pressure recommendation, and instead decides he is going to change his diet. He starts eating a salad every day for lunch, with the goal of reducing his blood pressure.
In this example, the man is also healthy by my definition. He may or may not lower his blood pressure with this method, but he is taking an action with the specific goal of reducing the severity of the disease in question.
How about one more variable change, and then we’ll move on?
Example 3: A man goes to the doctor for a checkup. His blood pressure reading at the doctor’s office is 160/94 and it is consistently at this value on three consecutive visits. Consequently, he is diagnosed with hypertension. As a result, his doctor recommends that he take a blood pressure medication. The man refuses to take the blood pressure medication. He also refuses to change anything about his lifestyle, stating: “it’s my body, and my health. I will do whatever I want and when I die, I die.”
The man in example three is not healthy by my definition. He has a diagnosed disease and is refusing to take any action to lessen the severity of the disease.
Ok. Now we’ve got some definitions established, we’ve got some examples to illustrate those definitions, and we’ll move on to why this matters.
The Case for Being Healthy
Does it really matter if we are healthy? Take the man in example three up above: doesn’t he have the right to do whatever he wants with his body? He should be able to make decisions about his own health and if he wants to eat or drink himself to death, he should be able to, right?
I think we could all agree that he has that right, yes. However, my objection is to the morals he has in place. It is my belief that we are morally obligated to be healthy, and here’s why:
Let’s say he continues on this path. He has no regard for his blood pressure skyrocketing by the day. It keeps climbing and climbing until one day, he has a massive stroke caused by unsustainably high blood pressure. The paramedics that pick him up after the stroke have a duty to attempt to save his life. The doctors that operate on him have a duty to attempt to save his life. The nurses and rehabilitation professionals that care for him in the nursing home for the rest of his life have a duty to do so.
Does he not have a duty to all of these professionals to be healthy? To lessen the chance that this would have happened in the first place? The resources that he was taking up from a car crash victim that came in the same night who died because the doctors were busy helping the stroke victim who refused to take any action on his disease; does he have a duty to that victim?
Now, I know what you’re thinking, “the stroke could have happened no matter what”. True. Of course. However, this man willingly allowed his blood pressure to remain at an unsafe value and refused to take any action, after it had been diagnosed. Therefore, my contention would be that he believed that his own rights to do whatever he wanted was prioritized over the hypothetical car crash victim’s right to be saved from death. Had he taken any action at all with the belief that it would lessen the severity of the disease, he would have been fulfilling his moral duty.
So if after that discussion, you still think, “no, no one has any obligation to be healthy,” I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree. But if this post hit home for you, what are you going to do to be healthy today?
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post or anywhere on richardsonpt.com is no substitute for an evaluation by a licensed healthcare provider. Always consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise or diet plan.