Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Commentary Page
Mon, Feb. 25, 2002

Was doctor a hero or a hypocrite?
Jeffrey A. Schaler

Cheap shots vs. fair game
by Bob Martin

Cheap shots vs. fair game

Is privacy more important than fair comment on public issues? Perhaps not.

By Bob Martin

In the fine print of our "Where to Write" box at the end of this column is this explanation: "All opinions expressed in this section are the writers' and not necessarily those of The Inquirer."

Notice I didn't call it a disclaimer, which is a refusal to accept responsibility for what is printed. We accept responsibility for what we print, though we don't necessarily agree with it.

Is that a contradiction? Ask yourself that after you read the following exchange of e-mails and the guest column about which they were written.

All shed some light on the decision-making process for commentaries. They show that the shrill public tone of advocacy often belies a more modest private demeanor. Mainly, they raise the question of whether someone's high-profile advocacy should carry with it intense personal scrutiny - even in death.

Though the e-mails were initially private communications, Jeffrey Schaler consented to their publication as an introduction to his commentary.

From: Jeffrey A. Schaler
Subject: Commentary submission

Dear Mr. Martin,

I'm submitting the article below for publication consideration on your commentary page. It is about the late John Slade, M.D., who was very influential in the anti-tobacco crusade, both in New Jersey and nationally. For the record, I do not work for the tobacco industry. My daughter and I co-edited the book Smoking: Who Has the Right? I also wrote a book titled Addiction Is a Choice.


Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor
Department of Justice, Law and Society
School of Public Affairs
American University

From: Bob Martin
To: Jeffrey A. Schaler
Subject: Commentary submission

Dear Mr. Schaler:

Permit me to say that I find it remarkable that after a man has a stroke and then commits suicide to end his pain and suffering, his political foe sees fit to write a commentary that calls him a hypocrite.

Recently I've heard people note the signs that mark the end of mourning over the Sept. 11 attacks. I suppose this would be my example: Your citing the philosophical contradictions of a suicide victim to prove a point about what a bunch of jerks there are on the other side of the issue.

Does simple human decency not suggest that you just leave this issue alone? Or are you content to do all this over Dr. Slade's dead body?

Sincerely yours,

Bob Martin

Dear Mr. Martin,

Regarding your concerns: I certainly appreciate what you are saying. I am sorry for upsetting you. Obviously I wouldn't be winning any popularity contests were the article to be published. Fortunately, I'm not running for office. Nevertheless, I think it is very important for this issue to be discussed and debated in public. I do not mean to be unsympathetic to Dr. Slade's decision and the reasons for it. It's just that the difference between what a person of Dr. Slade's stature and influence preached and what he practiced is dramatic, and the implications for public policy are significant, in my opinion. Many people will likely disagree. Many others will likely agree.

I do appreciate your concerns and I thank you for expressing them to me. I hope The Inquirer will see fit to let the public judge the merits of my argument on its own. I'm sure there will be plenty of letters criticizing me for exactly the same reasons you are criticizing me.

That's always the way of change and progress.


Jeff Schaler

Bob Martin is the Pennsylvania Commentary editor. His e-mail is

Was doctor a hero or a hypocrite? contentModules/printstory.jsp

By Jeffrey A. Schaler

John Slade, M.D., died on Jan. 29 at a family home on Lake Burton in Rabun County, Ga. The obituary in the New York Times on Feb. 9 said Slade shot himself. His death was ruled a suicide. He was 52. Six months earlier he had suffered a stroke.

His friend, Greg Connolly, wrote in a eulogy: "When you fight the immoral actions of the tobacco industry, you need a moral touchstone to persevere and stay on an ethical path. . . . In his life he has changed America and saved the lives of many of its citizens."

John Slade was a hero among contemporary public health crusaders. He was addicted to the anti-tobacco crusade.

However, John Slade was also a hypocrite. He had one set of standards for others and quite a different set for himself: He was a statist towards others and a libertarian for himself.

Slade chose to end his life quickly, most likely because he did not want to continue living as a stroke victim. When it came to himself, he wanted to be left alone. He did not want the power of the state to interfere with his gun use. But he enjoyed meddling in the affairs of others. He sought to use the power of the state to interfere with their cigarette use and with the relationship between cigarette buyers and sellers.

This contradiction is striking. Contrast his exercise of free will regarding, to borrow from his own language, a "bullet delivery device" with that of the millions of people who may end up killing themselves with what he called "nicotine delivery devices." Smokers choose to smoke for reasons that are important to them.

Slade committed suicide for reasons that were important to him. According to Slade, suicide performed quickly is a right, the act of a moral agent. Suicide performed slowly is a sickness, caused by an infectious agent, a virus.

The bottom line is that Slade believed he had a right to end his life because he no longer wanted to go on living. No one should condemn him for committing suicide. However, Slade devoted a significant part of his professional life lobbying for the very opposite kind of policy when it came to others: Smokers, he asserted, do not have the right to exercise free will to self-destruct by smoking.

The example set is the lesson learned.

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Jeffrey A. Schaler lives in Erdenheim, Montgomery County, and commutes to his work in Washington.