The diocese of Lexington, Kentucky recently mandated Covid vaccines for all of its employees. In a statement announcing and justifying the decision, Bishop John Stowe demonstrated a disturbing view of morality, which completely disregards the idea of individual rights and is, in my opinion, completely immoral.
“This is an urgent matter of public health and safety. There is no religious exemption for Catholics to being vaccinated, and Pope Francis has repeatedly called this a moral obligation. The health care system is now overwhelmed by a crisis caused primarily by those who refuse to protect themselves and others by getting vaccinated. This is unacceptable, and our diocese now joins those employers who have already made this basic commitment to the common good a requirement.”
(H/T Jack Jenkins on Twitter)
First of all, contrary to what Bishop Stowe and Pope Francis believe, it is simply false to say that getting a medical procedure is a moral obligation. The only moral obligation that a person has is to abstain from violating the rights of other people. No one is ever morally obligated to actively do anything, and that includes getting a vaccine.
Second, it’s wrong to say that any overwhelm of the health care system is caused by those who opt against the vaccine. It’s true that the situation could potentially have been prevented if more people had gotten the vaccine, but failing to prevent something is not the same as causing it. The virus itself is what is causing people to get sick and the medical system to get overwhelmed. The distinction between actively causing something and merely failing to prevent it is a crucial moral distinction that Bishop Stowe completely fails to make.
This leads to my next point, which is that declining to protect oneself and others (decline is a better word than refuse, because it is neutral as opposed to presuming that the person is acting wrongly by opting not to do the thing in question) is actually a perfectly morally acceptable decision. People are morally obligated not to violate the rights of others, and that’s it. No one is morally obligated to actively protect others. No one is morally obligated to protect him/herself, either. People have the right to take any health risks that they want to. One could argue that deciding not to get the vaccine is unwise, but it does not violate the rights of others; therefore it is a perfectly moral choice that people have the right to make.
Contrary to Bishop Stowe’s claim, there is nothing unacceptable about the situation. People have a right to decide which, if any, preventative measures to take with regards to Covid, and the number of people who get sick will correspond to those decisions. Of course, it is sad whenever someone becomes seriously ill, but people have a right to risk this if they choose to. There is nothing unacceptable about people making their own decisions about what level of risk they are willing to take.
As for the comments about the common good, these are completely misguided and, frankly, immoral. A commitment to the common good is not a requirement for being a moral person, and it certainly should not be a requirement for employment. You know what is a requirement for being a moral person? Respect for individual rights. Sadly, that is something that Bishop Stowe, along with numerous other employers, is sorely lacking. The contempt that Stowe demonstrates towards people who have done absolutely nothing wrong is cruel, disrespectful, philosophically unsound, unjustified, and wrong. Joining those employers who have completely failed in their moral duty to treat others with basic respect is not something that he should be bragging about.