Clayton Cramer criticizes Arthur Kellerman’s objection to home defibrillators:
So what device is it that Arthur Kellerman wanted the government to block you from having? No, not a gun. He was resisting government approval of automated external defibrillators (AEDs). His reasoning about AEDs is as specious as his reasoning about guns.
[. . .]Kellerman says. “If you have $2,000 burning a hole in your pocket, join a health club; get help stopping smoking; get help lowering your cholesterol. Sure, AEDs have saved hundreds of lives. But we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives with primary prevention of heart disease. And we don’t know whether having an AED in the home will make a family less interested in prevention.”
Kellerman’s statement — “Sure, AEDs have saved hundreds of lives. But we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives with primary prevention of heart disease” — is an excellent example of a logical fallacy that is popular among “helping professions” busybodies. It takes the general form: You shouldn’t do X for yourself. We should do Y as a society. These statements are typically made sequentially, and appear to respond to objections but really do nothing more than brush them off.
The problem is that the statements are not logically connected. X does not imply Y, nor are X and Y necessarily mutually exclusive. In this case, Kellerman does not explain why individuals’ purchasing of their own defibrillators is incompatible with improved preventive-medicine or public-health measures. By presenting preventive medicine as a false alternative to individual behavior that he disapproves, he appears to suggest that either 1) he does not believe that individuals have as much standing to make their own medical and insurance decisions as do bureaucrats, institutions and academic researchers, 2) he is arguing dishonestly, or 3) he is extremely sloppy in his thinking. Whatever his motives, his arguments deserve close scrutiny, especially since he has made similar badly reasoned arguments against individual decision-making in the past.
When confronted with a public-health non sequitur, or any argument that uses group data to prescribe (or proscribe) individual behavior, be alert to the possibility of statistical and logical sleight-of-hand. Often, the biggest questions concern who gets to decide rather than which decisions to make. The most important part of Kellerman’s argument may be the unstated (and hence unexamined) premise that he should decide for you.