Conservatives have noted the increasing tendency of Leftist commentators to adopt positions of moral superiority on almost all contentious issues of public policy, their occupation of the moral high ground thus automatically delegitimising any opposing view and, of course, obviating the necessity to engage with any objective arguments.
In recent days, an issue has emerged that I suspect will follow the same trend. I refer to ‘pill testing’. At this time of the year we are routinely confronted by the distressing image of standard-issue, fun-loving youths dying at music festivals after ingesting dodgy ‘recreational’ drugs. The answer, we are told, is pill-testing at music festivals so patrons can be assured their drugs are uncontaminated by lethal impurities. Here is the view of one such member of the general public as explained in The Australian’s Letters page on New Year’s Day:
Testing illicit substances at music festivals provides the information that anyone about to swallow a substance should have available to them before taking such action. It does not condone nor encourage taking illicit substances, but once the actual contents of the substance are known, it may deter such action and prevent serious consequences.
I don’t understand why this poses a dilemma. Surely testing is another way of preventing possible death.
On Sky News Professor Gino Pecoraro, a Brisbane obstetrician and gynaecologist, also opined that pill-testing does not in any way condone the taking of drugs. He was most insistent on this point and, unfortunately, the show’s host, Peter Gleeson, didn’t call him to account. It is self-evident that pill-testing at music festivals does, without doubt, ‘condone’ taking illicit substances, much as the vetting for brucellosis condones and endorses the consumption of meat. Here is a definition as presented by the online English Oxford dictionary:
I rest my case.
Now it may be that pill-testers accompany their analyses with some degree of warning that an ‘all-clear’ result does not guarantee there will not be ill effects. But it is hard to imagine that would spend too much time or energy on this element — or, indeed, that someone eager to get high would pay much heed to such warnings. Similarly, any attempt to remind users that their drugs are often cooked up by amateur pharmacologists in kitchen-sink laboratories means that a sample taken from a surface scraping need not represent the rest of the pill.
There is general agreement that drugs are dangerous and their use should be discouraged; it is, after all, the rationale for the daily parade of users and vendors through our courts. The logic for pill-testing is that it prevents unnecessary deaths, a process of ‘harm minimization’, according to its proponents.
Yet surely a marked degree of cognitive dissonance is at work here. Consider the most recent example: in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond, a ‘safe injecting room’ has been established where addicts can shoot up in the knowledge that, should things wrong, their overdoses can be immediately treated by on-site medics. The centre opened its doors late last year, but what do we read now? Why, that Victoria Police have launched a massive blitz on Richmond drug dealers! So, with one hand the state ‘condones’ the use of drugs, on the other it attempts to limit the supply of the very commodity whose use the centre was opened to facilitate. Whatever they are smoking on smoking on Spring Street must be powerful stuff.
If preventing unnecessary deaths is the prime motivation, why not extend the pill-testing model to all spheres of modern life, rather than just music festivals? Why are attendees at music festivals more worthy of saving than, say, Saturday night revelers at the local pub? Why not have a pill-testing module at every police station if saving lives is paramount?
Professor Pecoraro believes that better educating people about the danger of drugs is also key. Really? Have pill-testing advocates learned nothing from the anti-smoking campaigns, which it cannot be denied have seriously reduced tobacco use over the course of 50 years of admonitions and prohibitions. Yet only the other day I met a 68-year-old ex-nurse who swore she would never give up. When and if she finally succumbs to one or more tobacco-related illnesses, she will at least be able to claim that she has paid taxes all her life and that, by virtue of the punitive excise on her favoured vice, has probably more than covered the cost of her treatment. Not so for the youthful and comatose festival reveller who ends up on life support in the intensive care ward.
Of course we routinely condone risky behaviour that is legal, such as smoking, drinking, parachuting, hang gliding, skindiving and so on. And we accept the cost when things go wrong – when solo yachtsmen must be rescued, for example. The question seems to me: do we now accept that drug-taking fits into this same category – undesirable but, like death and taxes, inevitable? If we allow pill-testing at music festivals that is the inevitable and undeniable result in the long run.