“Irresponsible idiots”

Again and again, people who opt against the Covid vaccine are called morons, idiots, selfish, irresponsible, and a whole host of personally insulting nouns and adjectives. Those who spew forth these insults are essentially claiming that people are morally obligated to undergo a medical procedure for the benefit of others. This raises the question: are people who choose not to undergo a medical procedure truly selfish and irresponsible?

In my opinion, no. If anything, it is selfish and irresponsible to demand that others make the same medical decisions that you would make. The freedom to make decisions about one’s body is a fundamental right. My body, my choice, as those on the left-hand side of the political spectrum so often say with regards to abortion (although they seem to believe this principle is confined only to that particular issue). Unfortunately, the fact that the coronavirus spreads from person to person has caused a lot of people to throw the concept of individual liberty out the window. There is a tendency to believe that in situations where a person’s actions affect other people, individuals should no longer have the right to make their own choices. 

But that way of looking at things is wrong and misguided. It is true that when it comes to communicable diseases, one person’s actions have an indirect impact on others and on society as a whole by affecting the risk levels in the community. Opting not to get a vaccine does mean that a person has a higher risk of catching an illness, and therefore a higher risk of passing the illness on to other people. But there are numerous situations in which a person’s actions can affect other people. In fact, this is true in almost every situation to some degree. Riding a motorcycle creates noise which nearby people might find unpleasant; unhealthy eating can cause health problems which, if a person has insurance, can drive up insurance prices for everyone; and gun ownership carries a risk that one’s gun could be stolen and used to commit a crime, to list just a few examples.

But these are all actions that people have a right to do. To understand why, one needs to understand the difference between direct effects and indirect effects. If someone were to crash their motorcycle into your house, that would have a direct effect on you. It would destroy your property (and possibly physically injure you) and therefore violate your rights. Shooting someone would fall into the same category, as would stealing someone’s money, or giving someone Covid on purpose by deliberately coughing or sneezing on them. These actions all directly harm another person. Opting not to get a vaccine, on the other hand, does not directly harm anyone. It affects others only indirectly, by affecting the risk levels in the community. Declining the vaccine increases your risk of catching the virus, but it does not directly cause you to get it, because it is possible to decline the vaccine without catching the virus. Therefore, declining the vaccine certainly doesn’t cause anyone else to get the virus, because even if you get the virus yourself, you may or may not give it to another person. 

Your habits affect my risk level, those on the left argue, so they are my business. Your personal decisions make me less safe, so you don’t have a right to make them. But these arguments disregard the direct negative impact that is inherent in taking people’s freedom away. Being subjected to an unwanted medical procedure, or being pressured into doing something one does not want to do, violates rights and is inherently harmful. Effects on risk level and safety are not adequate justification for taking away the right to bodily autonomy and thereby inflicting direct harm. The fact that actions have indirect effects on other people does not override the concept of individual rights. If it did, then individual rights would essentially cease to exist. 

If you consider me selfish because I am unwilling to give up my right to control my own body, then so be it. I would rather be a selfish, irresponsible idiot than a mean, stuck-up, contemptuous, intolerant bully.