Category Archives: Human rights

A Spectrum of Mandates

 

I have tried to establish that the majority in a democratic society are allowed to impose vaccines on others who do not want to take them. I have tried to establish that on the basis of Mill’s principle of liberty enunciated in his book On Liberty.  Many of us now call the right which we have not to have actions imposed on us the principle of autonomy. I think that is a very important principle, but it is not an unlimited right.

Harms can be imposed on us if that is necessary to prevent us causing harm to others. It is of course necessary to weigh the harm avoided against the harm imposed.  The harm imposed must be less than the harm avoided, otherwise we have created greater harm by our actions. Sometimes, the ends justify the means. I will have more to say on that later.

Therefore, the harm caused by the mandate must be less than the harm avoided.

I suggest that there is a range of harms involved in mandates that depend upon the type of mandate. For example, the mandate could involve manacling the citizen and forcibly inflicting a needle with the vaccine into the body of the resister. That would be the most serious harm. It could cause great harm on the resister.  It certainly would elicit widespread opposition. I have seen photos of such a procedure being imposed on women’s suffragettes in the United States. They went on a hunger strike in the early 20th century to influence the American government, led by Woodrow Wilson, to grant women the right to vote.  They were horrific images of a woman being held while a tube was inserted into her mouth  through which food flowed against her will into her stomach.. The images probably went a long way toward persuading the public that perhaps their position was too strong and they lost public support. The same thing might happen with vaccines.

Unlike, forcing women to take food, I have argued that we would be morally justified in forcing vaccine Resisters to take the vaccines. But perhaps, such images, and there surely would be images, would quickly circulate and could persuade citizens that the government was going too far. As a result, such measures might be counterproductive.  Perhaps even though vaccine mandates are permissible we would be wise to avoid at least the more serious harms in the spectrum of harms. The spectrum of mandates could be from the smart to the stupid. I prefer the smart, though that is not always easy to determine.

We already have imposed some lesser measures that still go by the name of mandates. For example, we now require some employees in some situations, to be vaccinated, in order to work.  The loss of employment is obviously a serious harm imposed on the resisters.

We have also imposed restrictions on the unvaccinated to refrain from entering restaurants or certain stores or certain facilities such as hospitals or personal care homes for the purpose of visiting loved ones. Again these are serious harms but less draconian than the manacles.

Even though mandates are justified in my opinion we must be smart in choosing those that are the most effective and least counter productive.

We need smart mandates.

Christians Sing while People Die

 

The Winnipeg Free Press (Tom Brodbeck) has again reported on the effect that Christians have been having on the health of Manitobans.

“First the reporters explained how Intensive Care Units are working.  According to the Free Press

“Manitoba’s intensive care units can handle close to one new admission a day, on average, without disrupting normal hospital operations. Two per day, on a sustained basis, may force hospital administrators to redeploy staff to ICUs from other wards.

More than three daily admissions can lead to disaster — the kind Manitoba experienced earlier this year, when officials airlifted 57 COVID-19 patients out of province for critical care treatment. ICU patients tend to remain in hospital for long periods, which means they pile up fast when admission rates are high.

That’s how Manitoba Health described its ICU capacity in October, when public health officials pleaded with people to get fully vaccinated and follow public health orders to reduce pressure on hospitals.”

 

Of course, the Winnipeg Free has already reported how many people in Southern Health particularly in the Winkler area (though Steinbach is not much better) have been repeatedly ignoring Manitoba’s public Health Orders. Worst of all, dozens of people have been gathering in “secret churches” in barns and sheds ordinarily used for farm equipment. They want to gather together and sing together, even though such activities are dangerous at this time.  At the same time the region has the lowest rate of vaccine acceptance in the province and among the worst rates in Canada. All of this is done in the name of religion and freedom. The results have been disastrous, not just for the Southern Health Region but for all of Manitoba. As Tom Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Free Press opined:

“Since then, the ICU situation has gone from bad to worse, largely owing to scores of unvaccinated patients — mostly from the Southern Health region— clogging up hospital beds and threatening to collapse Manitoba’s health-care system.

ICU admissions from Southern Health alone over the past month have been enough to trigger contingency planning at Manitoba hospitals.

By mid-November, the number of newCOVID-19 ICU admissions from Southern Health exceeded an average of one a day, according to statistics compiled from the province’s online data portal.

There were two ICU admissions from Southern Health some days in November. On Dec. 6, there were four. No other health region, including Winnipeg, had more than one ICU admission in a single day over the past month.

Between Nov. 12 and Dec. 12 (the most recent available data), 33 of 69 COVID-19 ICU admissions were from Southern Health. The region is home to about 15 per cent of Manitoba’s population.

During that same period, 15 ICU admissions came from Winnipeg, 13 from Prairie Mountain, five from Interlake-Eastern, and three from the Northern health region.”

 

It is reasonable to infer, that because so many people from Southern Health are using the ICUs, and because so many of them are unvaccinated and flaunt public health orders, that the Manitoba Health system is jeopardy. This is despite the fact that Southern Health accounts for only 15% of Manitoba’s population. Sadly, a small group of recalcitrant people who resist vaccine and health orders, is putting the lives of Manitobans at great risk. And in many cases, this is done in the name of religion.

Added to that, Brodbeck asserted,

“There is incontrovertible evidence that low vaccine coverage and a stubborn refusal to follow public health orders, including masking indoors and adhering to proof-of-vaccination policies, is killing and hospitalizing people from Southern Health at disproportionate rates.”

 

Moreover, during this time we constantly hear reports about over worked nurses and other staff who are on the verge of emotional and physical collapse as they try their best to help people who are harming themselves and others as a result of their failure to follow health orders.  As a result Brodbeck informed,

 “Hospitals have been forced to redeploy health-care staff and cancel thousands of procedures to accommodate that, leaving tens of thousands of Manitobans suffering in pain and misery on growing wait lists.

This is the direct result of a misguided and misinformed anti-vaccination campaign that has taken a foothold in parts of the province. It is also the result of a provincial government that has refused to effectively enforce public health orders.

Manitoba hospitals are averaging over three new ICU patients a day (around half from Southern Health, the vast majority of whom are not fully vaccinated). Instead of having enough capacity to absorb another wave, Manitoba hospitals already have 34 COVID-19 patients in ICUs and 135 in hospital overall.”

It really looks like Manitoba and Southern Health in particular are headed for disaster and people in Southern Health have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. They have illegally exercised their religious  freedom while they wreak havoc on the community. That is a strange kind of religion. If it is religion at all.

 

Vaccine Mandates are Morally Permitted

Vaccine Mandates are Morally Permitted

 

Mill’s principle says that the only reasonable limit on freedom is the prevention of harms to others. What is the harm in refusing to take vaccines?

The way I see it there are a number of  harms that are avoided by compelling others to take vaccines they do not want to take. One of them is that refusal to take vaccines gives the deadly virus that causes Covid-19 an increased opportunity to spread that it should not have. The longer the virus is allowed to circulate the more people can get infected, and seriously ill, or even die. The more people get vaccinated the better the chance is that the virus will be stopped in its tracks. Scientists have persuaded me that widespread vaccination is our best chance at stopping the virus. People who resist the vaccines are helping the virus to spread and infect others. This is a serious harm to others.

There is significant evidence that the virus can be spread by the vaccinated as well as the unvaccinated. If it were equally possible for either group to spread the virus there would be no reason for us to impose vaccines on others, on that  basis since it would not make a difference to others.  The chance of others  catching Covid-19 would then be no higher or lower than   Then a vaccine mandate would not justified on this basis at least.  So far as I have learned the spread is greater by the unvaccinated so I think the case is still strong that imposing a vaccine on others against their will is permissible to avoid the greater harm to others.

As well, the longer the virus is allowed to circulate unchecked the greater the chances that the virus will evolve and develop new variants that are even more dangerous than the ones we have now. This can endanger not just us in the vicinity but actually people around the world. We are seeing this right now around the world with the spread of the new virus Omicron. We also saw it earlier with the evolution of the Delta variant. New variants might be available to evade the vaccines again putting other people at great risk of harm.

These are serious harms that people who refused to get vaccinated without a sound medical exemption are inflicting on others, so, in my opinion, the majority has the right to compel people to take the vaccine. I think the case for vaccine mandates is a strong one.

Tyranny of the Majority

 

John Stuart Mill also recognized that just because society made  decisions (such as to impose vaccine sanctions or not) in a democratic manner would not give the decision the right to override the essential liberties. There should be limits on the power of society through the ruler, even if a democratic ruler, over members of society—i.e. individuals. That is exactly what liberty means. Certain immunities or “political liberties or rights” would be so important that it would be regarded as a breach of the duty in the ruler” if he infringed them, even if that rule consisted of a democratic ruler, such as Parliament. As Mill said, “The limitation, therefore, of the power of government over individuals loses none of its importance when the holders of power are regularly accountable to the community.” Even democratic governments must abide by these limitations.

 

Mill recognized that the people, or a majority of the people, in some cases might want to oppress an individual or a part of a group.  Just like liberty is not absolute, so the power of the ruler/authority must therefore be limited or constrained as well and cannot be absolute. Some people forget this important aspect of Mill’s thought. Some people think that provided a decision is made by the majority they can do whatever they want. Mill denies this.  There must be limits even on the power of the majority.  In fact, Mill had a powerful expression for this—i.e. “the tyranny of the majority.” Mill said, “ ‘the tyranny of the majority’ is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.” So, just because the majority of the people think they should impose the obligation on an individual to get vaccinated does not of itself make that decision just.

Mill waxed eloquent on this subject:

“Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling…There is limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion with individual independence: and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, is as indispensable to a good condition of human affairs as protection against political despotism.”

 

Really what Mill is arguing in favour of is what we now call a liberal or constitutional democracy. That means a democracy that is subject to the human rights of the individuals. A democratic society cannot do anything it wants to do. There must be reasonable limits on that power and Mill helps us to understand what those limits are.

John Stuart Mill on Liberty

 

I think we can gain a better understanding of the issue of mandates by looking at what English philosopher John Stuart Mill said in the 19th century. In my opinion he has helped to shed light on many important social issues by his careful analysis of liberty.

John Stuart Mill set out well the rationale for allowing individuals to be free (autonomous) to decide for themselves what medical treatments to take or not take.

He asked a preliminary question to set out the issue clearly.  He asked,

“What, then, is the rightful limit to the sovereignty of the individual over himself? Where does the authority of society begin?  How much of human life should be assigned to individuality, and now much to society?”

 

That is precisely the question raised by the mandate issue. Should the individual be allowed to decide for himself or herself whether or not to take the vaccines or can society legitimately make the decision instead? Note that unlike many modern people who deny that the state has the right to impose virtually any restrictions on them, let alone vaccines, Mill recognized that there were restrictions on freedom and he wanted to understand what those limits were.

Mill said, in trying to answer this question, the following:

“Each will receive its proper share, if each has that which more particularly concerns it. To individuality should belong that part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested; to society, the part which chiefly interests society.”

 

If society is of greater interest in the answer to the question then the individual, then it ought to be allowed to make the decision. If the individual is more interested in the question  then he or she should be permitted to decide.

Mill did not say society had no right to get involved in the personal affairs of individuals. For example, Mill said “Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the former and avoid the latter.” As a pertinent example, in society there is no objection to trying to persuade individuals to take a vaccine if society has evidence that this course of action would be good for the individual and society. Society has the right to do that.  But does it have the right to go further and impose an obligation to take one of the vaccines?  According to Mill,

“But neither one person nor any number of persons, is warranted in saying to another human creature of ripe years, that he shall not do with his life for his own benefit what he chooses to do with it. He is the person most interested in his own well-being; the interest which any other person, except cases of strong personal attachment , can have in it, is trifling, compared with that which he himself has; the interest which society has in him individually (except as to his conduct to others) is fractional, and all together indirect; while with respect to his own feelings and circumstances , the most ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else. (emphasis added)”

 

Please note the vitally important qualification which I have highlighted.  Therefore, Mill concludes, with regard to what concerns only himself, society has no right to override the individual’s decisions. Mill said,

“in this department, therefore, of human affairs, Individuality has its proper  field of action…Considerations to aid his judgment, exhortations to strengthen his will, may be offered to him, even obtruded on him, by others: but he himself is the final judge.  All errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning are outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good.”

 

On this basis, individuals would be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to take a Covid-19 vaccine, provided his actions do not affect others.  That then becomes the central question: do they affect others and to what extent?

Back in 1859 when Mill wrote On Liberty, he realized that It would be “a vital question of the future,” what the nature and limits of the power  which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” On that point he was indubitably right as the current debate over the propriety of a vaccine mandate makes clear.

 

 

Mandates & the Duty to Accommodate

Even in considering moral questions it is often useful to consider some legal principles. The law is not always an ass.

In order to establish that one has a right to impose a curtailment of a right on others, the law often requires the imposer, such as the government, to establish that it has made all reasonable efforts to accommodate the other person. I think that is a reasonable principle.

Where a person claims to have a religious right to decline to take any of the Covid-19 vaccines and it is determined that in the circumstances an important freedom, such as the right to security of the person, or the right to dignity, can be overridden in the circumstances, society or the government as its representative, has a duty to provide reasonable accommodation for abridging the freedom. That does not mean it must cave in to all of the demands of the resisters, no matter how unreasonable.  Resisters must be reasonable as well. For example, society could be required to accept an alternative to compulsory vaccination in some circumstances, such as providing that the supplicant for an exemption could be given the right to provide a recent Covid-19 test that reasonably establishes that the applicant is not a carrier of Covid-19. That is the course of action Manitoba has followed in its mandates for Health care workers to be vaccinated or get frequently tested. Other jurisdictions have been harsher. Some have been more gentle. Who is right?  It depends on how important it is to have people vaccinated and how effective the tests are compared to the vaccines.

I think looking at the analogy of expropriation might be helpful. We have a society where each of is entitled to own property to the exclusion of others. That is called the right to private property. It is  a very important right, but that right is never absolute. Government has the right to expropriate private  property (which really means to take it) provided it pays fair value, actually needs the property and follows the rules of fairness. It is always important to remember that any right, no matter how sacred, is not absolute.

Doctors Manitoba has some helpful suggestions for accommodations : “frequent testing, continued use of protective gear and physical distancing or barriers to separate them from other workers.” That seems pretty fair to me.

Such reasonable accommodation could be required to get judicial approval or moral approval for imposing a vaccine mandate.  This could be required if it can be established that the Covid-19 testing was reasonably reliable enough to warrant society being required to accept such a test result and may not require the applicant to get vaccinated as a result.

A government should always make reasonable efforts to accommodate people whose rights are being abridged. Sometimes however, reasonable accommodation just won’t be possible.

 

Vaccine Mandate Exemptions

 

It is generally admitted that some people ought to be exempt from taking the vaccine. Manitoba has recently clarified who would be exempt and who would not. The list of acceptable excuses for not getting vaccinated in Manitoba is now quite narrow. For example, a note from a physician is not enough. If one can establish that one is allergic to the vaccines that is a valid excuse for not taking it in Manitoba. Other allergies are not good enough to qualify for exemption.

Only if a qualified medical physician said it would be more dangerous for a person to take vaccine than to risk the possible ill effects of taking the vaccine would a person be permitted to avoid taking the vaccine. I think that is the rationale.

Of course, some of our elected politicians are taking advantage of the exemption rules, or at least are trying to do that. 4 Members of Parliament, including Ted Falk who represents the riding in which I live, is not saying why he is absent from Parliament. Recently Parliament tightened its rule about Members claiming a medical exemption. The new rule requires Members of Parliament to qualify under the stricter Ontario provincial rules and since then 4 Conservative Members have not been able to go to the House of Commons. Mr. Falk is one of them.

Someone  said there are so few qualified medical exemptions that it is virtually impossible for so many Conservative Members to claim the exemption. I heard that it would be as unlikely as winning 4 lotteries! Yet our Member of Parliament continues to not to say whether he is vaccinated or is claiming a medical exemption.  In my view he is not showing much leadership on such an important issue, but frankly I am not surprised. What would have surprised me would have been learning that he was fully vaccinated.

So-called religious exemptions are also not acceptable in Manitoba, even though one church, the Springs Church in Winnipeg that a lot of people from Steinbach attend, attempts to issue religious exemptions, but they have no legal effect. Few religious adherents to my knowledge have even tried to argue for a coherent religious exemption.

I guess it is a bit like heaven. Many want to get in, but some think they can get special exemptions.

 

Is it unreasonable to compel Health Care workers to take the Covid-19 vaccines?

 

Many health care workers and others are objecting to provide medical information to their employers.  They think they have the right to keep such information private.  Do they have a point?

As Tom Brodbeck of the Winnipeg Free Press said, when medical students were in University,

“They have to sign an immune status consent form that allows the university to access their immunization records and agree that “maintaining an accurate and up-to-date immune status record is an important responsibility of being a student, to protect my own health, as well as the health of the patients with whose care I will be involved.”

I don’t know if other health care students were required to sign such a consent form but to me it seems reasonable to ask for it.

In the past, students at the university were told, that if they did not get immunized that failure “may result in the student being barred from clinical activities involving patients, and may mean the student cannot complete the program.” The students were not given the right to make a personal choice, such as taking tests instead. If they did not do as compelled, they could not continue their studies.

Why is it that now they expect to have the right to refuse? Really what the students learned is that they were expected to follow evidence-based science and get vaccinated or lose their positions. Was that unfair?

If health care workers do not accept evidence based science are they competent to continue in their profession? According to Brodbeck,

“Frankly, I question the medical competency of any health-care worker who chooses not to get immunized, including against COVID-19. I’m not sure I want someone looking after patients who has trouble understanding the basics of vaccine science. If they can’t grasp that, what other medical facts do they struggle with?”

 

I think Brodbeck has a point.  I don’t think health care workers who refuse to get vaccinated or get tested without a very good reason are worthy of working in our health care system. What do you think?

Absolute or Conditional Freedoms

 

When I attended the recent Steinbach rally against health restrictions and vaccine mandates, there was a lot of talk about freedom. Many of the protesters made it obvious that they think that in a free society they should be allowed to choose whether or not to wear mask or get vaccinated and risk the lives or freedoms of others as they see fit.

I am a freedom loving person. I would hate living in a country like Afghanistan where freedom is now largely absent. I cherish freedom.

I also cherish the right to dissent from authority. We should have the right to choose for ourselves and oppose decisions of the authorities or majorities in a peaceful manner. We should not be slaves to authority. We are free and have the right to be free.

However, dissent to be worthy of the name must be rational. We need to weigh the alternatives, and the evidence in favour of any proposition, and base our conclusions on our own powerful instruments of critical thinking. Irrational dissent (not based on valid reasoning or evidence) amounts to paranoia which can cripple us as much as tyranny can.

The people at the rally in Steinbach claimed to cherish freedom absolutely. Here I disagree. No rights are absolute. Freedom does not mean we have the right to do anything we want to do. Freedoms are always conditional.

Here are a few examples of what I mean.  All of us must abide by speed limits on public roads whether we like them or not. If we don’t, we can justifiably be punished, even in a free and democratic society.  We are not allowed to build a factory or hog barn in a residential district of a small city like Steinbach. We must abide by zoning laws. We are not free to enter into someone else’s home without their consent, except in unusual circumstances. We are not free to do that because they are free to keep us out.  We are not free to dump our garbage into the street, because that violates the right of others to enjoy community life free from garbage of others. We have to pay taxes whether we like it or not, even if the government spends some of our money on goals with which we don’t agree. We are not (at least in Canada) allowed to promulgate hate speech against other groups even if we hate them. We can hate them, but we are not allowed to encourage hatred or violence against them by others. We are not free to shout fire in a crowded dark theatre when there is no fire present, because that might lead to a stampede of panicking patrons that could cause serious injury to others. A person with a communicable illness like HIV/AIDs is not free to have sex with other individuals without warning them of the danger and if we do we can be charged with an assault. We are not free to hit other people just because we don’t like them. We are not allowed to build dangerous structures on which the public have access, because that would endanger their lives. We must always remember and take into consideration the rights of others. Their rights are not absolute either. Sometimes our rights must bend to allow rights of others to work out.

These are all reasonable restrictions on freedoms which we all must accept if we want to live in a free and democratic society with others.

Similarly, and for similar reasons, when Health authorities demand that we wear a mask to protect others, or get vaccinated if we perform certain functions or want to attend certain public events, we must abide by those requirements, because we are not allowed to endanger the lives of others even though such restrictions do in fact restrict our rights to some extent. In a free and democratic society restrictions can be placed on our freedoms for the protection of others. The restrictions must be effective, tailored to the remedy the harm to be avoided, and as limited as possible in the circumstances so that the freedom of others is curtailed as little as necessary to avoid the harm and no more.

Freedom is great, but it is not absolute. We should be happy that it is not absolute. That would be anarchy. None of us would like it.

Are vaccine passports fair?

 

As part of a project since I retired (more or less), Christiane and I have been attending various activities under the general heading of continuing education or learning for life. We have been taking all kinds of courses at various venues—from the University of Manitoba to McNally Robinson Booksellers. Many of them have been truly amazing. It probably doesn’t show, but Christiane and I have learned a lot.

Recently we latched on to a new venue, the Rose and Max Rady Jewish Community Centre. This is a gem! It has all kinds of programs. Our first venture was a concert of music from 2 of Manitoba’s finest French musicians who played classic French Canadian music, including some wonderful country tunes. Our next venture was a lecture by my guru, Arthur Schafer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Manitoba and director of the Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba. We participated via Zoom in a delightful talk by Professor Schafer on the subject of the ethics of vaccine passports. I is surprising how many ethical issues arise during a pandemic.

Professor Schafer pointed out to us that Israel has recently imposed what it calls a Green Passport. In Israel the rules of confinement imposed by Covid-19 requirements apply to everyone with very exceptions. One of the exceptions is that holders of green passports are entitled to move about freely as they wish, except that in public places they must wear a mask to protect others. The Green passport gives a record of one’s immunizations, including the date taken, and whether or not one has contracted Covid-19 to such an extent that antibodies have been produced in that person. If you have such a passport you can almost go anywhere you like free of encumbrances.

Other countries are now considering the same thing, including Canada. In some places they call it Vaccine Passport in others an immunity certificate, but the effect is always more or less the same. Special privileges are given to those with the Passport. Is this a good idea? Is it fair? Is it just?

Unlike Canada, in Israel 50% of the people have already received vaccinations . So, 50% of the people can do basically what they want, and the rest have to wait until they get their vaccine shot.  But the other 50% have to stay home and suck socks. Is that fair?

In Israel, as in other countries, some people object to vaccinations or are reluctant to take them, on religious or cultural grounds. Advocates for the program in Israel say it encourages people to take the vaccine. Opponents say the program is coercive, unfair, and unreasonable. Does the government have the right to coerce people to take the vaccine? What about people who can’t take the vaccine for medical reasons? Pregnant people are warned against taking the vaccine since there is currently insufficient evidence that the vaccine is healthy for a human fetus.

Now an incentive would be a good thing if the vaccine will protect our health system from being overwhelmed and posing a huge risk to many people and to protect our society and its citizens from devastating harm of the disease itself. These are both significant dangers. So avoiding them or mitigating them are a serious public good.

I ask you, is this reasonable or justified? What do you think? Tomorrow, I will give my views in my next post and I don’t want to influence anyone just yet.

Please give me the benefit of your opinions.