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Whose Life Is It?

George McGovern
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(Editor's note: What follows is a reprint of an article that ran on the op-ed page of The New York Times on Aug. 14, 1997. © 1997, The New York Times. Reprinted with permission.)


Freedom of choice in our everyday lives is a treasured right in America.

That freedom should, of course, be balanced with a sense of responsibility for our personal well-being and that of others.

Two high-profile lawsuits that hinged on the issue of choice were decided in early May. In the first case, a Florida jury decided that the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company did not have to pay damages to the family of Jean Connor, who died of lung cancer at 49 after smoking for 34 years.

A day later, a North Carolina man, Thomas Richard Jones, was given a life sentence for killing two people while driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

Connor chose to smoke. Millions of Americans have quit smoking, and Connor admitted in a videotape made during the last stages of her illness that she could have quit puffing had she cared enough.

I know too well the ravages of alcoholism, having lost my daughter to her addiction. But I also know that people are able to make choices. In the case of Jones, he was aware of the lethal effect of combining prescription drugs with alcohol.

One can argue that as an alcoholic, Jones had a disease and therefore had no choice but to drink. But he had a choice to take public or other transportation. Instead he decided to drive while drunk, and now has to accept the consequences.

Despite the death of my daughter, I still appreciate the differences between use and abuse. I still enjoy a glass of wine with friends. I also would not have denied Connor her cigarettes. Nor do I condemn the current trend in cigars.

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