Well, they’re already here, for smokers, the obese, consumers of sugary beverages, and other classes of contemporary untouchables. As for the rest of us, watch out. Writing at First Things, Wesley Smith describes how Republicans in Congress are getting in on the act:
Promoting wellness is becoming a means for government and big business to exercise control over our lives.
The pretext is cost-cutting — the idea that if employers and government can persuade us to live healthier lifestyles, then society will benefit from less government spending on health care and reduced business costs from lowered health-insurance premiums and fewer employee sick days.
But when does helpfully promoting wellness — say, by providing exercise classes, or professional assistance to employees who decide to quit smoking — become an intrusion into personal privacy? When does a laudable desire to reduce healthcare costs become an obsession with controlling how we live our lives?
Here’s one example. Republicans in the House of Representatives want to empower employers to induce their employees to be genetically tested so that the obtained information can be compiled and used in fashioning company wellness programs. Currently, employees can volunteer to be genetically tested if their employer’s wellness program offers the service. However, it is illegal under federal law — the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — for an employer to punish those who refuse such testing or to offer incentives to persuade workers to allow their genetic makeup to be assessed.
But the Republican-backed and Orwellian-titled “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act” (how does preventing coercion around genetic testing inhibit companies from establishing wellness programs?) would erase those crucial privacy protections by permitting employers to charge workers a higher cost for their health insurance as a quasi-punishment for refusing to give up their genetic privacy. Talk about empowering large institutions over the individual!
The bill would maintain existing privacy protections on the use of such information and would supposedly ensure that the data derived be presented only in the aggregate, not in an individualized format. But as tens of millions of victims — ranging from Yahoo! users to female marines — have learned, in the contemporary world true privacy can never be guaranteed. Once personal information is launched into cyberspace, unauthorized access is often just a matter of time and opportunity.
This is scary, because as Wesley notes, the wellness cops never know when to stop, and yes, we cannot count on them to protect our privacy. The threat is aggravated by the fact that for many in our culture, health is a kind of cult. A crusading one, too.
It makes sense. After all, materialism means that only material existence has any reality, so preserving that existence is the ultimate value. That is, unless the individual is judged too costly, too inconvenient, to maintain in life. In that case, pull the plug.