Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: A feminist defence of the nanny state

Written by Anke Snoek

Macquarie University

In Australia Senator David Leyonhjelm has won support for a broad-ranging parliamentary inquiry into what he calls the ‘nanny state’. A committee will test the claims of public health experts about bicycle helmets, alcohol laws, violent video games, the sale and use of alcohol, tobacco and pornography. “If we don’t wind back this nanny state, the next thing you know they’ll be introducing rules saying that you’ll need to have a fresh hanky and clean underpants”.

Do we have a right to make bad choices concerning, for example, alcohol or smoking tobacco? Every time the government comes up with policy measures to regulate our intake of these substances, people cry nanny state. But how informed are our choices regarding alcohol and tobacco consumption anyway? I would argue that they are not very informed, for several reasons. The first is that the alcohol and tobacco industries have been studying for years how they can sell the most alcohol and tobacco, to make the most profit. We think that the government is interfering with our choices, while the fact is that the tobacco and alcohol industries have been interfering with our choices for decades. Another reason that we are less informed that we think is that important role models in our lives and their use of alcohol and tobacco affects how we consume these products. How much and how often would your father drink alcohol? There is a good probability that you model your consumption on his. Nevertheless, our knowledge of the long-term effects of these substances has changed, and so we should take these changes into consideration when determining our intake.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.