• My Rights and Freedoms

    Many anti-vaxxers choose to frame the question of “to vaccinate or not to vaccinate” in terms of personal rights and freedom. The decision they take on that issue is, they claim, for them and them alone.

    We should first register that they need approach the question in that way only because they have first rejected the medical and scientific advice in favour of vaccination. If they had accepted that advice, they would presumably have had no qualms about following it.

    But having decided that the virus does not exist, or that the vaccination does not work, or that the vaccination causes unwelcome consequences – or, perhaps, because they simply have an entirely different agenda in mind – they then claim the right, as individuals, to refuse a treatment that most of us (around 90%) believe to be the key to saving lives, ending lockdowns and other restrictions, and restoring normality to businesses and citizens alike.

    They claim that the right of dissent is an essential element of what it means to live in a free and democratic society. But should we not pause for a moment to consider the individual rights of the rest of us as well?

    For me, too, as someone committed to freedom and democracy, there is an important issue of individual rights embedded in the refusal of some of my fellow-citizens to be vaccinated. I decided, after assessing the evidence, to be vaccinated; and for me and others like me, those who refuse vaccination have turned themselves into agents of oppression – of me and of the rest of society.

    They threaten me and my loved ones with the increased risk of potentially fatal illness – certainly one that could require hospitalisation and could, even if survival is achieved, have damaging long-term consequences for those who contract the illness.

    They threaten the possibility of continued restrictions on my freedom of movement, and on my ability to run a successful business and to pursue many other of my individual interests. They threaten me with the loss of loved ones and the blighting of their life chances.

    Am I, as an individual, not entitled to protect my rights and freedoms, when they are threatened in this way? If I am threatened with harm by the actions or inaction of others, am I not entitled to ask my fellow citizens to join with me in defending ourselves?

    I have, of course, limited ability as an individual to protect myself and others similarly placed.
    But, like so many others in our society, I had foreseen this problem, not just in relation to the delta virus, but also – as history shows – in relation to other existential threats (such as world wars and depressions) to our way of life.

    I had taken the precaution, with many others, of helping to develop a democratic form of government which could – through advancing the general interest – protect me against such threats, even when I could not, acting alone, do so myself. It has usually succeeded in the past (though it sometimes, as in the case today of global warming, struggles to recognise and deal with challenges quickly and effectively enough).

    But it remains in place – a democratic government that we have elected for the purpose, standing ready to protect me and all others against the tyranny of others – both individual and collective. If it were unable and unwilling, for any reason, to protect me against the sheer ignorance and cussedness of those who now threaten to hold us hostage to the virus, I would feel betrayed, not only as a member of society but also as an individual. Individual rights and freedoms accrue to all of us in a democracy, but they avail us little if we cannot protect ourselves, especially when we should be able to rely on our elected government to do so. It is one thing for a single individual to claim that their individual right is more important than mine; it is taking it a good deal further to say that it must also prevail over the rights of all of us, both individually and collectively.

    I claim my rights and freedom to be protected and delivered to me by the government that I and a majority of others have elected for the purpose. Those who claim that they can act to my detriment simply because their individual interests take precedence over mine do not know what it means to live in a democracy.

2 Comments

  1. Jeremy Callaghan says: November 18, 2021 at 4:22 amReply

    Bryan this is not a comment on your (unarguable ) piece above but a comment on the news that New Zealand will be easing restrictions in mid-December when it is expected that as many as 90% of Kiwis will be vaccinated. In Ireland this sort of figure was reached some time ago but infection rates have soared as society has opened up and restrictions are being reintroduced as the health services have come under pressure again. Not so many people are dying because of vaccination but the future is worrying. The same is the case in many European countries. I hope the NZ Government has the resolve to stay the course because we are not out of the woods yet. Jeremy

  2. Bryan Gould says: November 18, 2021 at 4:01 pmReply

    Thanks Jeremy – totally agree.