Some people seem to want the legal codes of governments to be the same as their personal principles of right and wrong. In my opinion, that is impossible.

The rules for one’s own activities can be quite idealistic and aspirational. The laws for a society have to be minimal and enforceable. They are the same only when a person has minimal standards or when a government tries to make everyone a saint.

It’s the latter program that is dangerous. Certainly alcoholic beverages cause many people to act irrationally and become addicted. So, many individuals avoid them altogether or moderate their use of them. But when our government tried to eliminate their use by everyone almost a century ago, it was disastrous.

We can encourage the personal morality of abstention or careful use of dangerous substances, but making this a matter of civil law is impossible.

Not everyone wants to do good, or do it in the same way, so a government cannot enforce one picture of the good life. It legitimately only tries to prevent the activities that harm other people. Therefore, it should not make suicide or suicidal behavior illegal; it can only discourage it and offer help to those who try. Certainly social institutions should promote health and happiness, but making illness and sadness illegal is not government’s business.

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