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For example, commenting on the mandatory helmet law debate, A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments (ABATE) has said it does not “advocate that you ride without a helmet when the law is repealed, only that you have the right to decide.” Of course, these autonomous decision-making rights are not absolute, and may be limited when the choice of an individual unfairly burdens others or puts them at significant risk.The Institute of Medicine defines public health as “what we, as a society, do collectively to assure the conditions in which people live can be healthy.” In making claims such as “my body, my choice,” helmet law opponents imply that their actions affect no one else.

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Groups such as the American Motorcycle Association argue that “mandatory helmet laws do nothing to prevent crashes,” and are an inappropriate method of increasing safety and public awareness.

Although the prevention and reduction of injury are a primary focus of helmet use, the motorcycle helmet law debate typically raises ethical issues that extend beyond the more immediate and intended purpose of protecting the head of the rider.

Not only have helmet laws affected injury and fatality rates, but also health care costs both for riders and for the general public, because injured riders use shared health care and insurance resources and uninsured riders often rely on public assistance programs to pay their hospital and rehabilitative care bills. Department of Transportation Crash Outcome Data Evaluation System suggest that in three states that have universal helmet laws, inpatient charges for patients with brain injury due to motorcycle crashes would have increased from $2,325,000 to $4,095,000 if no helmet law had existed.

Illustrative of such shared insurance burdens is the reported 34 percent increase in the average insurance payment on motorcycle injury claims in Michigan since the 2012 repeal of the state’s helmet law. These statistics demonstrate not only the efficacy of helmet use in mitigating damages in the event of a crash, but also the direct link between the repeal of universal helmet laws and an increase in TBI, death, and use of scarce health care resources.

Those individuals who act autonomously base their actions on their own values and plans.

The right to act autonomously finds support and protection in both U. law and basic principles of Western bioethics, and is manifest in Justice Benjamin Cardozo’s statement that “every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body; and a surgeon who performs an operation without his patient’s consent commits an assault, for which he is liable.” It is important to note that Justice Cardozo did not comment on the quality of the decision itself—that is, whether it is a “good” decision or a “bad” decision—but on the individual’s right to make it for him or herself.

The Texas Legislative Guide was designed and developed by Becca Aaronson, Emily Albracht, Daniel Craigmile, Annie Daniel, Ben Hasson and Ryan Murphy for The Texas Tribune.

The Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that promotes civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern.

Each decision to repeal a helmet law sparks political, legal, medical, and ethical debate.

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