Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.
A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.
If his mother had been insured.
If his family had not lost its Medicaid.
If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.
If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.
By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.
Now, I'm inclined to call this an act of violence. In denying Driver medical care, we as a society are responsible for his death.
But let's bracket that question since, as Andrew Bailey correctly pointed out, defining violence is hard. Let's look instead at a principle of Peter Singer's:
If we can prevent something very bad from happening by doing X, and if we can do X without sacrificing something of comparable moral worth, then doing X is morally required.
If we can prevent (or substantially reduce the incidence of) the death of poor people from preventable diseases by paying a progressive tax into a single-payer health care system, and our freedom from taxation is not of comparable moral worth with the death of poor people from preventable diseases, then paying a progressive tax into a single-payer health care system is morally required.
This isn't a particularly utilitarian principle. Indeed, I have trouble understanding what it would be for the general principle to be false; what else could it be for X to be of less comparable worth than Y except for the sacrifice of X for the sake of Y to be morally required?
But I suppose libertarians want to reject the conclusion the more specific principle implies. How does this rejection go? The specific principle is an instance of the general principle, and I've already suggested the general principle is as analytic a truth as one could hope for. Then there's an empirical premiss, concerning the effectiveness of single-payer health care systems in improving public health, which I take to be extremely well-supported. The only other option is to claim that not paying into a progressive income tax is of higher moral comparable worth than the lives of poor people, which seems to be radically incompatible with any baseline notion -- whether Kantian, Aristotelean, or mainstream Christian -- of the intrinsic worth of every individual, a la Nozick.
Is the libertarian seriously going to claim that property is of greater intrinsic worth than life?