Over the course of the Covid pandemic, one of the main arguments for violating people’s rights is the desire to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. In my opinion, however, concerns about hospital capacity are not a valid reason for taking people’s freedoms away. By their very nature, rights must always come first.
This might sound hard-hearted or insensitive, but sometimes the demand for things exceeds the supply, and this is simply a part of life that people need to deal with. When an institution, organization, or business is experiencing more demand for its services than it can supply, it is up to that institution, organization, or business to either increase capacity or come up with a system for managing demand. One way to increase capacity is by building field hospitals or deploying hospital ships, as many cities and states did during the beginning of the pandemic. Another way is by asking staff to work more hours, or intensifying efforts to recruit more staff. Some examples of managing demand include using a first come first served system, prioritizing people based on how severe their condition is, drawing names from a hat, or using another randomized method to determine who will receive services. Whichever methods are used, one thing remains constant: any of these methods of managing capacity is a better solution than violating people’s rights in an attempt to reduce demand.
For some reason, many people have the attitude that for hospitals to be over capacity is something that must be avoided at all costs. It follows that controlling people’s behavior in order to reduce the amount of people who become sick is permissible (or even necessary, in some people’s opinions). But this way of thinking is backwards. People’s rights must come first. People have fundamental rights, which include the rights to make our own medical decisions and to move about freely. People must be allowed to freely decide whether to get the Covid vaccine or not, whether to do Covid testing or not, which activities to engage in, which people to get together with, which businesses to patronize, and which locations to visit. Whatever demand for hospitals’ services results from people’s collective decisions, is the demand that results, and hospitals need to come up with a system for dealing with that. Just like any other business or institution, it is the job of hospitals to manage capacity issues if and when they arise. Doing so might require making difficult decisions. Preventing difficult decisions from needing to be made is great if possible, but it does not supersede people’s rights.
It is also worth mentioning that making non-vaccinated people go to the back of the line for medical services is, in my opinion, a permissible option if hospitals are at or over capacity. This solution would address the concerns about non-vaccinated people becoming severely sick and needlessly taking hospital capacity away from people who “deserve” it more. And it would address these concerns in a way that does not violate the rights of non-vaccinated people. Why not have a policy that people who opt against vaccination are doing so at their own risk? Under such a policy, people would be perfectly free to either get the vaccine or not. If someone becomes severely sick from Covid, they would have the option of either showing proof of vaccination to move to the front of the queue, or remaining at the back of the queue if they have not gotten the vaccine or do not wish to disclose their status. Given that this would solve the hospital capacity problem without violating anyone’s rights, there really is no justification for forcing people to get the vaccine (or banning them from occupations, places, or activities unless they get it, which is essentially the same as forcing them). The thought process seems to be that it is somehow more cruel to move non-vaccinated people who become severely sick to the back of the line than it is to force all non-vaccinated people to do something they do not want to do. But this is false, and this way of thinking is paternalistic and illogical.
For things to exceed their capacity is part of life, and there is no reason for hospitals to be treated differently than any other institution, organization, or business. It is morally backwards to argue that hospital capacity should determine which activities people are allowed to do. Although preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed is a worthy goal, it cannot be allowed to dictate how much freedom people are granted. Respecting individual liberty is more important than anything else. Rights come first, and everything else, including concerns about hospital capacity, come second.