As someone who has been taught to measure my words, I have had enough of the prime minister’s attempt to brand people who object to the COVID vaccines as “anti-vaxxers.” He made the most of it, of course, during the recent election campaign, when he told us that he was not going to let “anti-vaxxer mobs” dictate his response to the COVID crisis.
Justin Trudeau’s motivations were plainly political. It always helps to have an enemy in politics, and scapegoats are even better. He was not alone, however, and other political figures, like Jagmeet Singh, have followed his lead and used the term repeatedly to forestall any serious inquiry into such matters.
It is basically name-calling. Messrs. Trudeau and Singh are now using the term to demean and ostracize people who object to the idea of mandatory vaccinations.
My initial objection to the use of the term is that it is a falsification. The vast majority of people who object to mandatory vaccination favour the use of vaccines. They merely believe that they should be used in the appropriate circumstances, when the risks from the targeted infection outweighs the risks from vaccines. It is a sensible position and follows clinical practice.
The principal issue is with the risks from the new vaccines, which have been ignored by most of the media.
Trudeau’s misrepresentation goes much deeper, however, because it is double-speak. The zealots are the people who have lined up behind the pharmaceutical industry and demanded that everyone must be vaccinated. Call them what you like—all-vaxxers, total-vaxxers, blanket-vaxxers—it is the absolute nature of their position that stands out, which seems to be a reflection of politics these days. There is no middle ground.
The problem is that the all-vaxxers fail to respect the principle of prudence, which is primary. All vaccines come with risks. We should be careful about putting foreign elements in our bodies, particularly when they are pathogenic or undermine the ordinary operation of the immune system.
The issue that has to be determined in each case is whether the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. This determination is based on a balancing, which is pivotal and varies from case to case. Many doctors around the world have criticized mandatory vaccination because it neglects this aspect of the process and creates a “one-size-fits-all” approach, which violates their obligation to care for the needs of individual patients.
The legal practice is similar. An Israeli Rabbinical court recently held that the new vaccines should not be administered to children, since they have minimal risks from COVID. Meanwhile, lawyers have raised concerns about the danger mandates pose to personal freedoms.
For many, the risks from the vaccines outweigh their benefits, and the long-term effects of these new vaccines are unknown and therefore unacceptable.
None of this is a problem for the all-vaxxers, who have no real interest in any balancing that might interfere with their demand that everyone be vaccinated. They have accordingly seized on the fact that children may infect the rest of us and argued—when the layers of rhetoric are removed—that the benefits to the general population outweigh the risks to particular persons. So children as young as 5, who have no real risk from COVID, should be vaccinated—not because it is good for them but because it is good for us.
The logic here is chilling. Anyone who has taken a course in ethics must have studied Immanuel Kant, who taught us that individual people must be treated as ends in themselves, and never as a means to an end. It is part of the curriculum.
Ethics also teaches that this kind of crude utilitarian analysis, which sacrifices the health and well-being of individuals to some official idea of a greater good, is indefensible. It is the same kind of thinking that led to eugenics, compulsory sterilization, and a whole host of dubious medical practices in the past.
The deeper issue raised by the mandates, however, is autonomy. The ethical consensus is that the individual is supreme in these matters, and not the state. Common law has historically reserved decisions with regard to bodily integrity—and what we put in our bodies—for individuals. Handing such decisions over to some anonymous class of officials, even in cases where we strenuously object, is not merely offensive, it is despotic.
From a constitutional perspective, the most troubling aspect of the situation is the suppression of dissent. The fact that we disagree with the decisions that individuals make is irrelevant. Freedom is meaningless in a society where everyone is required to agree.
I cannot discuss the constitutional issues here, but my message to Mr. Trudeau is that his use of a “straw man,” the fictional anti-vaxxer, to attack people who object to mandatory vaccinations is unconscionable. He is attacking people who are doing exactly what they should be doing, ethically, in deciding honestly and sincerely whether they should be taking the vaccine.
The suggestion that they have done so frivolously or trivially is insulting.
I am well aware of the glib response from politicians to any criticism on these issues. I should accordingly add, for their benefit, that the vaccine mandates raise a number of moral issues, and as an American bishop recently put it, people are obliged to consult their conscience in such cases and follow it. The point for slow learners like our politicians is that people do not merely have the right to make their own decisions in these matters—they have a duty to do so.
The broader questions are momentous. The attempt by the political classes to force people to follow the dictates of the state, against their conscience, is an attack on the sanctity of the person and betrays the values on which our society is based.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.