What Do We Owe the Addict?

He seems like a common enough guy, neither handsome nor plain. He’s mid-forties, still has all his hair, not really fit, but not fat either. He’s been a hard worker, but work has gradually become more difficult for him, and he wishes he could quit. His employer frowned on the recent sick leave days he took.

He wishes he could quit something else too. He has tried, several times, but he keeps coming back. He can’t help it. And now his doctor says his health will worsen considerably, and he may die early if he doesn’t rid himself of this habit.

It started easily enough, with a casual offering in junior high school. Then more, and soon the habit was daily. He didn’t suspect what it could do. It has only gotten worse since then. Now he finds himself coughing uncontrollably at times. People stand away from him. Some friends he doesn’t see anymore, and his wife left two years ago. That only made the habit worse. At his next doctor visit it was nothing but bad news. Bad labs, and the question of something in his lungs. He’s going down. He can feel it. He thinks his job won’t last. Yet he can’t quit smoking.

What do we owe this guy, captured in one of the most powerful addictions there is? Do we owe him nothing because he was weak? Isn’t it some flaw of his basic character, his race, even, that has put him on a slick downward slide? Why should we do anything for him? He didn’t even behave responsibly enough to take care of himself and be strong, let alone honor his duty to his family. Conservatives say we owe him nothing, not as individuals, not as a nation. Let him die.

Did I mention that he’s a white guy who wears a suit and tie to his work as Vice President for International Operations in a large and highly respected corporation? Should that matter?

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