Reason | May 17, 2021 | 0
Mandatory Vaccination and Liberty
Compulsory vaccination has no place in a free society.
On December 4, 2020, a bill ( ) was introduced to the New York State Legislature which would, if passed and enacted, result in mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations. The pertinent text from the bill, “If public health officials determine that sufficient immunity has not been developed, this legislation will allow the Department of Health to require vaccination for individuals able to safely receive the vaccine.”
As I considered this infringement on individual sovereignty, I perused the Internet on topics related to self-ownership. And just when I think I’ve seen it all, I came across writings touting mandatory vaccination as consistent with liberty/libertarianism. Really?
I found the primary focus of those making the case for compulsory vaccination being it is an act of aggression to endanger other people. By being un-vaccinated, a child, for example, is infringing upon the rights of other children by subjecting them to unnecessary risk to such serious illness. Such advocates argue that the state is legitimatized in using coercion to protect the rights of individuals from those who would use force against them (force, in this case, being putting them at a higher risk of physical harm). They focus on the community or collective interest versus individual interests.
Do such arguments have any merit whatsoever for a libertarian? No.
To allow the state to force parents to have children vaccinated (or face punishment) is fundamentally an affront on the right of the individual. Likewise, the politicians advocating for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations (should they deem it necessary) must be stopped from implementing yet another freedom-killing assault on the individual.
No degree of alleged protection of the “herd” justifies an individual forsaking sovereignty of their body. Expropriating such individual liberty for the sake of a collective’s well-being is the basis for all manner of liberty-restrictive actions. If indeed a given vaccine instills protection against disease, those who willingly choose to receive it, should find comfort in their assumed likely protection against becoming sick themselves as well as an assurance against a widespread outbreak occurring.
The first vaccination mandates worldwide began in the late 1800s (smallpox), and then as now, some vehemently opposed compulsory vaccination with some anti-vaccination groups successfully repealing compulsory vaccination laws in several states at the time. Riots in opposition took place in Leicester, England, in 1885. The battle spanning from the late 19th century to the present wages on between the government and such groups. Penalties for non-compliance varied from country to country and within from region to region.
Although a requirement for entry into government-run (public) schools, exemptions have been permitted in most states for religious objectors and with a few states allowing an exemption for those with other stated reasons deemed philosophical.
However, there is even a push by some to eliminate such exemptions on the fear that as it becomes more acceptable to oppose vaccinations the number objecting will increase to the degree that herd immunity will be threatened.
A community’s defense against an illness such as measles must not be compromised it is argued, and yet it is not just an easily contagious disease for which they seek mandatory vaccination — some seek mandatory vaccination against a disease which is spread only through intimate contact as well.
Consider the strong societal pressure to advance the HPV vaccine (to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts). What clearer example is there of personal intrusion on an individual than to force them to receive an injection for protection against a sexually-transmitted illness? The individual decides to incur whatever risks are involved in having a relationship with another, and it is clearly not a matter of risk to anyone else, thus proving the push for compulsory vaccinations is not the protection of the herd but control over the individual.
As for those currently given exemptions, not all religions oppose vaccines, making it unavailable for non-followers to use that excuse. Some resort to using arguments addressing safety concerns (which is then countered by those upholding vaccination based on a risk assessment of benefits versus adverse reactions).
What is never questioned is why an individual must have an “excuse” which the ever-powerful government evaluates to approve or not. Compulsory vaccinations are an assault on an individual’s unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. This recognition of the individual is the bedrock upon which the Constitution and the American government are built.
To have to defend the opt-out option is turning the entire controversy upside down. Personal autonomy trumps the collective; with vaccinations justified only by being offered or recommended, not coerced.
And yet, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 1905) that states were permitted to require mandatory vaccinations of citizens and that doing so did not violate the 14th Amendment. This case is also used as a precedent for other matters such as government-issued orders regarding face masks, or limitations on public gatherings and movement, etc. This may be a stance upon which some “libertarians” could buttress their arguments in favor of compulsory vaccinations, yet it falls short of the principles underlying the libertarian/liberty philosophy. To blindly accept any SCOTUS decision without independent examination and evaluation of its Constitutionality (or lack thereof) is to acquiesce to the collective as if it knows better than thou. The federal judiciary, made of fallible humans, can of course be incorrect in its interpretation of Constitutional law as evidenced by over 300 of its previous decisions having been overruled (and this not even counting those which were abrogated by amendments or Congressional statutes).
The 1700s are filled with fascinating historical accounts of inoculation (and its opponents) as the world suffered from the ravages of the deadly variola virus which caused smallpox. We know some of the founding fathers of our nation received smallpox vaccines, that George Washington mandated the Continental Army (comprised of volunteers) be inoculated, and that James Madison signed the Vaccine Act of 1813 (which encouraged vaccination and assisted in its distribution). Both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were strong inoculation advocates (with Franklin’s son succumbing to the disease). They focused on science and education of the people, with Franklin going so far as to found the Society for Inoculating the Poor Gratis.
Today’s vaccines have drastically reduced many dangerous diseases that previously plagued the world; our founders saw the value firsthand. Yet their emphasis on the public health benefit did not extend to coercion to accomplish it.
It is self-evident, there is nothing more personal than the human body of an individual. Whether for oneself or a parent on behalf of a child, the individual’s unalienable rights certainly and without equivocation encompass the right to choose what is done to the body. Mandating a substance be injected into it is fundamentally a violation of those rights.
Honoring and respecting our intrinsic right to freedom of choice in such a personal matter solves it all.
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