Rights and Health Care topics: Government Mandates

The next health system topic emerged as a top topic in my mind with the COVID-19 pandemic. The question is: what types of health practices can the government require, and which ones can they not. Actually, I want to rephrase that question as: what types of health practices SHOULD the government require, and which ones SHOULD they not. There is a huge difference between what the government SHOULD be allowed to do and what they currently CAN do.

With that being said, I want to look at three different mandates that the government (at either the federal or state level) has imposed or attempted to impose.

Government Shutdown

During the pandemic, practically every state enacted policies to close down nonessential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Of course, it’s phrased as ‘nonessential businesses’, but what it really means is ‘nonessential jobs’.

So, I will go on record as saying that I’m perfectly okay with shutting down nonessential jobs. Of course, I want to be able to define what a nonessential job is. Here’s my definition.

If a job:

  • pays for the food you eat
  • pays for your shelter
  • pays for the clothes you wear
  • pays for health care
  • pays for education
  • pays for investments for the future (including retirement)
  • pays for donations made to nonprofits and others who need help
  • pays for transportation
  • pays for costs associated with your career
  • pays for child care
  • pays for any of the above for someone else

then it is an essential job. Oh… and I may have missed a few items, so I may want to add additional lines to the list as I think of them.

So, if a job does NONE of the above, then it is nonessential, and you can shut it down.

Since I doubt there is a single job that meets those criteria, the government shutdown of “nonessential” was a complete and total infringement on the rights of every man, woman, and child in this country. Every governor (or president) and legislator who enacted those policies should be impeached or fired immediately.

Not only was it totally illegal, it was also totally stupid. The economic cost to the country of those closures has been incredible. We now see supply lines broken, massive confusion in the work force, and business operations in complete disarray because of these closures. You simply cannot turn off a significant portion of a multi-trillion dollar economy (and that’s only counting the United States), and then turn it back on and expect everything to simply start running again the way they did before. Innumerable people have been impacted by these closures. Every time I go to the store, I see sections of shelves completely empty of products because of the disruption of the supply lines. Last year, my wife and I wanted to buy a new car. We narrowed it down to 3. Two of the dealers had no new cars on the lot, and none were expected. Chalk that up to the shutdowns.

The cost to the economy of these shutdowns is enormous. The cost to our rights… well, that cannot be measured.

The purpose of the government is to secure our rights. Everyone’s rights! Here we have as clear an example of the government acting in a way completely contrary to it’s purpose, and we will be paying the cost of that for many years to come.

It doesn’t matter who we are talking about. That’s the thing about ‘all men are equal’. Yes, you can make a case that a fast-food restaurant is less critical to a community than a hospital. But it is NOT the rights of the community that need to be protected. A community HAS NO RIGHTS! Rights belong to individuals. The person working in that fast-food restaurant has rights that are equal in importance to the doctors and nurses in the hospital. The fast-food worker’s rights needed to be protected at exactly the same level as the highest paid doctor.

Mask and social distancing mandate

I’m amazed at how many people are up in arms about the mask mandate who were absolutely silent about the government shutdowns. The government shutdown was a blatant violation of our rights. The mask mandate and social distancing mandates were not. However, based on my discussions with people, this needs some explanation.

It goes back to rights. My rights extend right up to the point where they interfere with your rights. I apologize if you get tired of me saying that repeatedly. I say it because that is the basis for EVERYTHING political (or at least, it SHOULD be the basis).

What is the purpose of masks and social distancing? It is to prevent the spread of a disease. It is NOT to prevent you from getting sick. It is to decrease the likelihood that you will spread the disease to someone else.

Here’s where the concept that your rights cannot infringe on another’s rights comes into play. Let’s say that you have a mild cold. Not the flu, not COVID-19, just a common cold. Because it’s not bothering you so much, you decide to go about your business with no steps to limit your ability to spread that cold to others.

To many (even most) people, a cold is a nuisance. I have a job that has nice time-off benefits, and for me, a cold is almost (but not quite) a holiday. I get paid time off. I get to stay at home and read or watch movies and relax. But for others, that is not the case at all. I have a friend who is self-employed. For him, a cold serious enough to keep him in bed means days with absolutely no income. For other people with various health issues, there is nothing simple about a common cold. A cold can have life altering, and even life threatening, implications. In order to protect your rights, it is necessary to protect theirs, and that means taking reasonable precautions to avoid infecting them with your cold.

You can make an argument that you don’t like masks because they are not effective at limiting the transmission of a disease. If you want to take a political stance that the mask mandate should be for medical grade masks, such as those worn by doctors or CDC researchers, then I can fully support you. My only qualification is that if there is going to be a government mandate, it must be one which I (and everyone else) can obey. So, if there is going to mandate that a certain type of mask be worn, then two criteria must be met. First, those masks must be readily available to everyone. That criteria might be difficult to meet at this time with the supply line issues caused by the shutdown of nonessential jobs. The second criteria is that the masks must be very reasonably priced. By that, I mean in the below $10 range. For many people in this country, even a $25 unexpected expense can be hard to deal with. So, provided those two criteria can be met, I am perfectly comfortable supporting a mandate to wear medical grade masks under situations where you might spread some disease (even the common cold).

What I am NOT comfortable doing is supporting the idea that, because masks are not as effective as you would like, there should be no mandate at all. Even without the medical quality masks, mask wearing DOES have some level of effectiveness in controlling the spread of disease because it DOES trap some of the moisture that we exhale. It does slow down the velocity of the exhaled air. Both of these factors limit the amount of germs which can travel from our nose and mouth to others. Sure, the masks (especially the commonly worn cloth masks) do not provide a huge amount of protection, but even if it is just a 5% decrease, it is still something that we can do to protect the self-employed person, or the person with a medical condition, from getting our cold.

And here’s the thing, even if a mask, by itself, is 0% effective at limiting the spread of a disease, it still helps. Because, if I’m walking down the street, and I have a medical issue which dictates that even a cold can have huge consequences to me, and I see someone walking towards me wearing a mask, I now have the option of keeping my distance. Even if the mask couldn’t protect me physically, it still acts as a warning to me and can still decrease the probability of me getting sick.

And please do NOT make a comparison between mask wearing and (for example) wearing the arm bands with the star of David on them that Jews were required to wear in Nazi Germany. Those bands were designed to identify a population who’s rights were being systematically removed, eventually to the extent of sending them off to die in a concentration camp. Masks are an attempt to protect the rights of those you come in contact with by doing what you can to protect them from getting sick. Those two mandates (masks vs. arm bands) are not similar. They are not even in the same universe.

There are reasons to not wear masks. They are uncomfortable. They make my glasses fog up. They are a nuisance. NONE of those reasons are an infringement on my rights.

To be honest, If I had a wish for one lesson that we could learn from all this mess is that in the future, people would wear masks whenever they had a cold, a flu, or any other transmissible disease.

All of the same arguments apply to social distancing. It only makes sense. If you have a cold… keep your distance. This is not about inconvenience. It is about making some effort to guard those you come in contact with from getting your cold.

Wearing masks, social distancing, and other such behaviors are common sense. They help. And most importantly, they are not an infringement on your rights. Actually, the opposite is true. Because these actions serve to protect the rights of those you come in contact with, they also serve to secure your own rights!

Now, I will make one other comment. I would really prefer to not see government mandates about mask wearing and social distancing. It would be so much better if people would employ common sense and common courtesy and just do the right thing. However, since it is the role of the government to secure our rights, this is one of the few areas in which the government is NOT overstepping it’s bounds when issuing a mask or social distancing mandate. And this comes in a day when I view about 95% of the actions taken by the government as overstepping their bounds.

Mandatory Vaccination

The last government mandate I want to mention is the vaccination requirement that is being attempted in some areas.

To begin with, the importance of vaccination in general is not a question that I feel needs to be discussed. It is only through mass vaccination that we have virtually eliminated a number of diseases that have taken a catastrophic toll on people in the past. Diseases like polio, tetanus, measles, and others are almost totally absent in our society due to the widespread adoption of vaccines.

As a result, it is easy to make SOME arguments in favor of a vaccination mandate. It is also important to understand that, to some extent, vaccination mandates are not new. As a general rule, children are required to be vaccinated in order to attend school (though there are some exceptions made to this rule). This mandate, which has been in place for decades, has been a critical part of maintaining the high vaccination levels which has allowed us to avoid a resurgence of those diseases.

However, it is also easy to make SOME arguments opposing a vaccination mandate. Because the vaccine is so new (and especially because the COVID-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines which are based on new technology and have never been used to treat a widespread disease), a level of skepticism is perfectly appropriate. It’s hard to justify requiring a medical procedure for which the risks are not fully understood. The risks of the measles vaccine are well understood… the measles vaccine has been around for many decades. The COVID-19 vaccines do not have that advantage.

Now, I do not buy into any of the various conspiracy theorys that form many of the arguments used by antivaxxers. I believe that, in general, the scientists who have devoted so many hours to developing the vaccines, and testing their efficacy, and all of the health care people who have distributed and administered the vaccine; the vast majority of these are generally good people. They are not out to get me. They are not engaging in some sort of undercover operation to get me to take a drug that they know will have some bad effect on me. I firmly believe that the vaccines are exactly what they purport to be: a vaccine that uses known techniques (along with some new techniques) to provide protection against the COVID-19 virus. The actual level of protection may not be completely understood, especially with the new variants that are arising, but based on what we DO know about vaccines, it is quite reasonable to assume that they do provide some level or protection. And, knowing what we do about how diseases work and spread, even imperfect vaccines (which ALL of them are) play a significant role in dealing with the disease.

And so, given this, in my desire to secure the rights of those I come in contact with, I have chosen to receive a vaccine. Do I think that the government should come around with a syringe and a loaded gun to insist that you be vaccinated (because that’s effectively what a government mandate is)? I’d definitely prefer to avoid that. But it is definitely a proper role of the government to protect the rights of those we come in contact with, so a mandate which requires vaccination (preferably which offers the alternative of testing and quarantine) is perhaps undesirable, but it is not a blatant infringement on our rights. Of course, as with so many other government actions, I’d much rather see people employ their own freedom to make choices to secure the rights of others so there was no need for a government mandate.

At some point in the future, I would expect to see the rules updated for vaccination requirements for people attending school to be updated to include the COVID-19 vaccine, and I find that to be a reasonable step at some point in the future. Given the huge number of doses that have been administered, we are quickly learning about any negatives associated with the vaccine, and within a few years, a change to vaccination requirements will be quite reasonable, and will probably be sufficient to keep the disease under control. Personally, this is the response that I hope to see. Any mandate now definitely needs to include the option of choosing testing and quarantining for those who do not trust in the efficacy of the vaccines.

I would like to mention one other thing about vaccination requirements. Some people are exempted from the requirement due to a religious exemption. This, and other medical procedures, are prohibited by some religions.

I find this particular type of exemption very tricky to accept. When a person claims that they do not believe in receiving some medical treatment for themselves because of a religious belief, I have no issues whatsoever. But when they apply that to others (specifically their children), I have a problem with it.

Everyone’s right are to be secured equally. If you turn down medical treatment that might save your life because of your religious beliefs, that is fine. You have the right to do that. However, if you are able to turn down medical treatment for someone else because of your religious beliefs, that is NOT okay. That is NOT a religious right that should be protected. If you are able to say “You may not treat my child because of my religious belief”, that, in my mind, is quite similar to saying that you have the right to discriminate against blacks (or gays or whatever minority) because your religious beliefs. Nobody has a right (religious or otherwise) to infringe on someone else’s rights, even if that person is their child. Nobody can use their religious beliefs as an excuse to deny someone else their rights.

If you withhold medical treatment (including vaccination, blood transfusions, or any other medical procedure) because of YOUR religious beliefs, then that is a misunderstanding of what a right is, and that allowance should be done away with.

I realize that doing away with this exemption will feel like a person’s religious freedom is being infringed on… but what is being prevented is applying their religious belief to others, and that is NOT (and should not be) a protected right.

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