Why People Who Refuse To Get Vaccinated Should Not Have Lesser Healthcare Rights

medical ethics

As winter pressures have mounted on the NHS, both health staff and politicians have grown increasingly frustrated with the number of unvaccinated patients needing treatment for COVID. The risk of being hospitalised with COVID is substantially greater for those that haven’t had a vaccine. The latest data suggests that more than 60% of COVID patients requiring critical care in England haven’t been vaccinated.

Nevertheless, despite debates over whether COVID vaccines should be mandatory – given that they clearly protect a person’s health and have wider social benefits – uptake has largely remained voluntary in England. Vaccines are obligatory only for those working in the care and (from April 2022) health sectors.

Even with omicron sending cases surging, Sajid Javid, the UK health secretary, dismissed universal mandatory vaccination, saying that “ethically it’s wrong”. What, though, should the consequences be for a person who comes to suffer ill health with COVID having chosen not to be vaccinated?

In Singapore, the answer is that they must pay for their treatment. A proposal along the same lines has been debated in New South Wales in Australia. Limiting care for unvaccinated patients has also been a publicly debated question in the UK. But should choosing not to be vaccinated really result in a person being deprioritised or charged by the NHS?

Using policies to influence the decisions people make in response to the pandemic is not problematic in itself. Indeed, some coronavirus-related responsibilities – such as lockdown restrictions and self-isolation rules – have been supported by the threat of legal punishment to ensure they are met.

Meeting other responsibilities has been encouraged through “softer” measures. Information campaigns and public guidance have been used to promote vaccine uptake. And having to show a COVID pass to attend particular events or venues has been an indirect way of increasing rates of vaccination.

The perceived threat of negative consequences may therefore serve as a “stick” to encourage compliance. But the threat of any negative consequences must not just be effective; it must also be ethical and fair when the policy comes to be applied.

Is limiting healthcare rights ethical?

In a context of having finite healthcare resources to allocate, there’s an intuitive pull to the idea that someone who has made a clear, poor decision regarding their health shouldn’t be prioritised – and that they should be responsible for the costs.

But, as I have argued previously, there are strong reasons, based in medical ethics, to resist the attraction of such an argument. Such a policy would undermine two of the seven principles underpinning the NHS: that treatment is provided to all who need it; and that the provision of treatment is based on clinical need, not ability to pay.

Just by refusing vaccines, a person cannot be deemed to have also refused consent to receive treatments for COVID. People who are unvaccinated have not waived their positive right to healthcare. Rather, the NHS would be denying treatment that unvaccinated patients are due.

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

A policy to deprioritise unvaccinated patients for care, or to charge them for such care, would not be about denying a privilege or preference. It would be punitively discriminatory, denying a fundamental and universal positive right. And crucially, despite the apparent starkness of vaccine refusal, such a policy shows too little subtlety in understanding responsibility for health.

Beyond individual responsibility

For better and for worse, as individuals alone we are demonstrably not responsible for many of our health opportunities and outcomes. Policies that would punitively pinpoint responsibility to individuals – with significant costs to them – therefore need careful justification. This includes policies in relation to apparently straightforward choices that are harmful to health, such as smoking, poor diet or refusing vaccines.

The evidence indicates that when it comes to choices people make about their health, there are systemic influences in the background – factors that may themselves be changed, such as the social advantages or disadvantages that people experience. But these are beyond the influence of individuals acting alone. Looking just at individual responsibility and vaccine uptake requires us to deny that there’s any meaning or relevance, for example, to systemic influences that explain lower levels of vaccination among some ethnic minority communities.

And would a punitive “responsibilising” policy, with its moral undertones in justice, be coherent with other individual and social responsibilities that we have? Given how stark the choice is between having a vaccine or not, refusing may be interpreted as being obviously irresponsible in the context of trying to control COVID. But so too could other choices, some of which are also quite stark, such as choosing not to socially distance, for example.

A sound reason would be needed for singling out vaccine refusal. And even if that could be found, and the government did want to punish or otherwise treat people who refuse to be vaccinated differently, the NHS is not the right place to do that. “The punishment fits the crime,” it might be said. But the firm reality is that vaccine refusal is not crime, and even if it were, denial of healthcare is not a fair or humane punishment.

At the extreme (which I would resist), parliament could criminalise non-vaccination. Yet even then, we would be right to punish offenders through the criminal justice system rather than by denying healthcare; just as we would do a person who comes to harm as a result of, for example, drink-driving.

Sajid Javid may be right to declare that mandatory vaccination is ethically wrong. But so would be denial of healthcare rights where that care is clinically needed – even if a person may (at least in some senses) be responsible for that need having arisen.The Conversation

About The Author

John Coggon, Professor of Law, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Recommended Books: Health

Fresh Fruit CleanseFresh Fruit Cleanse: Detox, Lose Weight and Restore Your Health with Nature's Most Delicious Foods [Paperback] by Leanne Hall.
Lose weight and feel vibrantly healthy while clearing your body of toxins. Fresh Fruit Cleanse offers everything you need for an easy and powerful detox, including day-by-day programs, mouth-watering recipes, and advice for transitioning off the cleanse.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Thrive FoodsThrive Foods: 200 Plant-Based Recipes for Peak Health [Paperback] by Brendan Brazier.
Building upon the stress-reducing, health-boosting nutritional philosophy introduced in his acclaimed vegan nutrition guide Thrive, professional Ironman triathlete Brendan Brazier now turns his attention to your dinner plate (breakfast bowl and lunch tray too).
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

Death by Medicine by Gary NullDeath by Medicine by Gary Null, Martin Feldman, Debora Rasio and Carolyn Dean
The medical environment has become a labyrinth of interlocking corporate, hospital, and governmental boards of directors, infiltrated by the drug companies. The most toxic substances are often approved first, while milder and more natural alternatives are ignored for financial reasons. It's death by medicine.
Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration




mindfulness and dance mental health 4 27
How Mindfulness And Dance Can Improve Mental Health
by Adrianna Mendrek, Bishop's University
For decades, the somatosensory cortex was considered to only be responsible for processing sensory…
charger incapability 9 19
New USB-C Charger Rule Shows How EU Regulators Make Decisions For The World
by Renaud Foucart, Lancaster University
Have you ever borrowed a friend’s charger only to find it is not compatible with your phone? Or…
man. woman and child at the beach
Is This The Day? Father's Day Turnaround
by Will Wilkinson
It's Father's Day. What's the symbolic meaning? Could something life-changing happen today in your…
how pain killers work 4 27
How Do Painkillers Actually Kill Pain?
by Rebecca Seal and Benedict Alter, University of Pittsburgh
Without the ability to feel pain, life is more dangerous. To avoid injury, pain tells us to use a…
what about vegan cheese 4 27
What You Should Know About Vegan Cheese
by Richard Hoffman, University of Hertfordshire
Fortunately, thanks to the increasing popularity of veganism, food manufacturers have begun…
helath effects of bpa 6 19
What Decades Of Research Document The Health Effects Of BPA
by Tracey Woodruff, University of California, San Francisco
Whether or not you’ve heard of the chemical bisphenol A, better known as BPA, studies show that…
how save m0ney on food 6 29
How To Save On Your Food Bill And Still Eat Tasty, Nutritious Meals
by Clare Collins and Megan Whatnall, University of Newcastle
Grocery prices have taken a hike upwards for a host of reasons, including the rising costs of…
ocean sustainability 4 27
The Health Of The Ocean Hinges On Economics And The Idea Of Infinity Fish
by Rashid Sumaila, University of British Columbia
Indigenous Elders recently shared their dismay about the unprecedented decline in salmon…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.