I posted the following on Twitter the other day:
The post drew a fair number of comments, some of which were arguing the efficacy of the new mRNA vaccines and the stupidity of not taking them. But those responses missed the point:
The purpose of the post wasn’t to debate the safety and efficacy of the vaccines themselves, but to ask whether people were in favor of forcing them on those who, rightly or wrongly, did not want them.
This question must be settled first before the second order one can even be discussed. Because if one feels he can force medical treatments on healthy people who do not want them, then it really doesn’t matter if the vaccines are safe and effective. Arguing they are safe and effective is something you do when trying to persuade someone to take them. If you can force them, giving convincing reasons isn’t necessary, and what you are really saying is: “You will take them because we believe you should, and we can make you.” In that case, you are not asking for their consent.
Few people were willing to voice that authoritarian sentiment outright — instead they defaulted to saying how irresponsible it was not to take them, outlined some of the consequences and otherwise attempted to make the case on public policy grounds. But this was a cop out. Using the language of persuasion when you don’t believe people should have a choice is duplicitous. I wanted to push them to say what they actually believe and mean.
Some people said not taking the vaccine was allowed, but it would have “consequences.” By and large they didn’t mean biological consequences — a greater chance of getting sick if they caught COVID — of which everyone I know who has declined the mRNA vaccines is well aware and which they are, to a man, willing to face. Instead they meant “consequences” as a threat, i.e., if you don’t do this, you will pay a social, and maybe a professional, price. Saying “choices have consequences” is something you’re told at the principal’s office before they make you show up for Saturday detention.
Other people focused on the definition of “force.” While no one advocated explicitly for holding someone down and forcibly injecting him, some opined that those who refused this treatment should be forced to stay at home or not be allowed to participate in various social activities. We can quibble about the definition of “force” or “coercion,” but that too misses the point. The question is: Do you want to create consequences for the healthy person refusing this treatment that are so significant he will choose to take the injection against his will? Focusing on whether as a society we’re there yet is not relevant. France is already there, many in my mentions seemed to want us to get there. It is important to have this discussion before we get there, not afterwards.
My strongly held opinion is we should absolutely not force, coerce or penalize healthy people for refusing a medical treatment they do not want. Not only is this a violation of international law, it is a disastrous policy that would commit us to taking whatever medication the authorities du jour deemed necessary, whether we wanted it or not. Imagine Donald Trump telling you must ingest hydroxy-chloroquine (never mind whether you think it works or not — it’s irrelevant) to stop the spread, and millions of people shaming you for refusing and blaming you for what they believe are the consequences. It’s pretty obvious this isn’t a good policy, even if you think it would be better if everyone took the mRNA vaccines.
If you agree forcing healthy people to take a medical treatment they do not want is anathema to a free and just society, but you believe the mRNA vaccine is both safe, effective and crucially important as a matter of public health, you might be inclined to persuade people to take it. Arguments about its safety, efficacy and urgency only become relevant and important in this context. Otherwise, you should just go about destroying someone’s enjoyment of life until they capitulate and save your breath.