In summary, I argue here that, perhaps surprisingly, Covid vaccine mandates, (laws, for example, that say health and care-home workers must be vaccinated in order to be allowed to do their work), are a thin end of a discriminatory and authoritarian wedge that open an ideological pathway to belief in the same kind of nationalist myths, promoted by Nazi Germany, that mandated enforced sterilization, and euthanasia of the elderly and disabled in the 1930s.
In the UK, and in other countries during 2021, there has been a push for Covid vaccines to be mandatory for staff in health and care settings.
On the one hand, some argue Covid vaccine mandates would protect vulnerable patients and care home residents, while others argue such a government imposed mandate would breach a long standing public health, ethical, stance, that respects individual autonomy over personal bodily interventions that involve personal risk. At the moment such a mandate is not being put into practice in the UK, although the policy is still under review and may change, but in some countries, such as Austria, there is now such a mandate.
To begin with we should try to clarify two things: a) the difference between freedom of speech and freedom to act upon self or others; and b) regarding bodily autonomy, the difference in terms of the body’s internal workings as distinct from the body’s actions on the external world.
So, first, we need to be clear on the difference between a freedom to express a view (free speech) as contra-posed to a freedom to discriminate against others through actions. The latter is a form of xenophobia (an example is provided below) that incites hateful violence against minority groups.
Second, we also need to bear in mind the difference between personal bodily autonomy vis à vis the internal workings of one’s body as contra-posed to a bodily autonomy that refers to actions taken by that body, for example, behaviours such as seat-belt wearing.
For adults: “Bodily” means anything that involves the internal workings of the body that affects personal health (in Canguihelm’s sense – the ability to maximize potential for functioning) and the idea of “autonomy” as used here refers to something that is as a result of a personal decision.
Of course the idea of personal decision making is problematic as we are, and our imaginary identities are, an amalgam of personal vs cultural identities. But I won’t explore this further here.
The idea of “bodily” here, is limited to its internal workings and excludes its (the body’s) material actions on the external world (eg fighting) whilst recognizing that, for example, taking anabolic steroids, a personal bodily decision, affects the metabolism and personal health AND may lead to aggressive behaviour towards others, a social action.
In summary, to reiterate, such mandates are a thin end of a wedge that opens an ideological path to belief in the same kind of nationalist myths held by Nazi Germany that mandated enforced sterilization and euthanasia of the elderly and disabled.
I argue that where there is personal risk of harm from vaccines. involved there should be a red line for medicine: this is because preventive interventions always carry risk of harms that cannot be valued adequately, such as over-treatment (and for tests, over-diagnosis), they are over-sold/hyped leading to fear which incites desire felt as an imperative demand, whilst generating surplus profit and power.
Bodily autonomy and Ideology:
The following example is intended to illustrate how confusing free speech with freedoms to act socially highlights how vaccine mandates are a freedom to act socially that discriminates against a social grouping. In the case of vaccine mandates what is at stake is a) the freedom to have a personal belief; and b) autonomy over decision making with respect to the body itself.
Fundamentalist Christian groups follow a socialized normative belief that claims homosexuality is a sin. Followers of this ideology have tried to weaponise the principle of free speech in order to legitimize discrimination against gays on the basis, NOT of speech, but of actions, namely a refusal to sell or serve gays in shops.
A case in point is where gays were refused service by a baker to buy a wedding cake in a Christian evangelists cake shop because the owner believes their sexuality is a sin.
The court ruled in favor of the Christian fundamentalists but ONLY on narrow technical grounds (insufficient impartiality on part of the commission ruling the bakers actions unlawful).
The court arguing:
“any decision in favor of the baker would have to be sufficiently constrained, lest all purveyors of goods and services who object to gay marriages for moral and religious reasons in effect be allowed to put up signs saying ‘no goods or services will be sold if they will be used for gay marriages,’ something that would impose a serious stigma on gay persons.”
I suggest that any apparent “Free speech” that expresses discrimination against personal choice re bodily autonomy should be against the law as it amounts to socialized discrimination on the basis of personal belief of the ‘other’. It’s a tactic to claim this is a freedom of choice for the owner of the store; just as it is a tactic to claim that vaccine mandates is a form of freedom for the vulnerable in health and care settings. When, in fact, it’s is a form of universalized social discrimination – to refuse work to somebody on the basis of their beliefs or lifestyle. .
The argument that the unvaccinated pose a risk to the vulnerable in care fails when a) it is known that even the vaccinated have waning immunity and can be re infected, and b) more importantly, the primacy of personal bodily autonomy protects us all, even the vulnerable – and remember the vulnerable under Nazi-style fascism suffered enforced sterilizations and euthanasia. This is an extreme example but illustrates why vaccine mandates should be a red line the health and caring professions should not cross.