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Harm-Reduction Initiatives Violate Hippocratic Oath: New at Reason

Sunday, October 9, 2016 6:39
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On election day, Californians will vote on a number of propositions, including one increasing cigarette taxes and another requiring condoms in pornos.

Steven Greenhut and Damon Jacobs write:

Most of us have heard the dictum, “First, do no harm.” It’s often thought of as part of the Hippocratic Oath—the traditional oath that new physicians take, in which they pledge to uphold the finest traditions of medical practice.

Those precise words don’t actually appear in the oath, but they were penned by the Greek physician Hippocrates in another work. The advice is pretty clear—physicians should never do more harm than good.

Such lofty ideals don’t usually work their way into debates about California state ballot initiatives, but this year, two of the more prominent measures are based on the simple idea of “harm reduction.” Proposition 56 increases the state’s relatively low tobacco tax by $2 a pack of cigarettes (and equivalent amounts for other nicotine products). Proposition 60 requires actors in pornographic films to use condoms during sexual intercourse.

The key promise behind Proposition 56 is that higher taxes will discourage people from smoking cigarettes, which unquestionably are dangerous products. The foundation of Proposition 60 is that adult-movie actors are at-risk of becoming infected by various sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B. Condoms are known to limit such harm. So on the surface, at least, these measures seem to advance legitimate harm-reduction goals.

As with all initiatives and legislation, one needs to look closely at the actual language to see if it lives up to the lofty promises. In both cases, the initiatives clearly do more harm than good.

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