Photo by Hakan Nural

Sweetening the Covid Kool-Aid

Incentivising vaccination calls medical ethics into question

Artillery Row

Our government (and others) are going to extraordinary lengths to coax young people into getting the Covid-19 vaccine. “Kebabs for jabs” is how one headline reported Uber and Deliveroo offering free food deliveries; others mentioned McDonalds vouchers, pizza discounts and other things it is difficult to understand as improving the nation’s health (especially since the majority requiring ITU treatment for Covid-19 in this country are obese). In the USA, free ice cream has been on offer, though the “leader of the free world” is here following Russia and China, who both got there first. Most recently the Universities minister in the UK indicated hard cash incentives (publicly funded) may be on the table for students, and the BBC reported the University of Sussex is offering the chance to win one of ten £5,000 jackpots to those who are double-vaccinated.  

Never mind that it is now clear that vaccinating the young will do very little, if anything at all, to protect others: Prof Andrew Pollard, who leads the Oxford vaccine group, said last week that herd immunity is impossible through vaccine uptake alone. UCL’s Prof Francois Balloux agrees: “It is not … a ‘duty to others’ to get vaccinated but a protection for oneself.”   

Even if there were benefits to others, there are major questions about the ethics of incentivizing treatments this way, especially (still unlicensed) treatments given to healthy individuals where the benefit to recipients is likely miniscule to zero, yet the potential adverse effects (known and unknown) may be significant.

It is highly questionable whether vaccinators are giving anything like an adequate level of informed consent

First, there are serious questions about whether this practice violates the principle of informed consent. According to the NHS: “For consent to be valid, it must be voluntary and informed.”  The decision “must not be influenced by pressure from medical staff, friends or family”, i.e. there can be no coercion of any kind, either by reward or threat. Further, the person “must be capable of giving consent” and  “must be given all of the information about what the treatment involves, including the benefits and risks”. 

There are well-documented risks of very serious adverse reactions to the vaccine, not least myocarditis which appears particularly prevalent in the young. Myocarditis results in irrecoverable damage to the heart muscle that cannot be described as “mild”, as it often leads to heart failure in the long term. It is highly questionable whether vaccinators are giving anything like an adequate level of informed consent, since they often seem ignorant of the reported yellow card data (which itself is known to vastly under-report actual adverse reactions).

The ethics of trying to pressurize people into vaccination through sweeteners (“Vaccines are the surest way to put Covid behind us and for students to reclaim the freedoms that enrich university life”) or threats (“you owe it to others to get the vaccine yourself”) reflect not the morality of personal responsibility, arising from our Judeo-Christian foundations, but the immoral bullying of a quasi-religious cult.  

According to the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA), the hallmark of a cult is “unethical manipulative or coercive techniques of persuasion and control…. use of special methods to heighten suggestibility and subservience, powerful group pressures, information management, suspension of individuality or critical judgment…. designed to advance the goals of the group’s leaders, to the actual or possible detriment of members…” Considering the extraordinary pressure exerted from the top down by leaders and institutional authorities today, it is difficult not to feel we are in the grip of such cultic behavior.

The medical profession became, in the end, the servants of State-sponsored wickedness

Perhaps most chilling of all are the warnings from history. A salutary article from the New England Journal of Medicine in 1949, “Medical Science Under Dictatorship” (available in full), demonstrates how medicine can play its part in shifting society towards rational utilitarianism and abject inhumanity. When medical ethics begin to compromise even in apparently minor ways, a sinister drift happens alarmingly easily.

Examining the Germany of the 1930s, and its culmination in the indescribable depravity of Dr Mengele and others, the paper says, “…it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians”. In conclusion, “corrosion begins in microscopic proportions”.

It is deeply disturbing to read how in Germany, and nearly every other occupied country, the medical profession, having turned a blind eye to what seemed ethically dubious in a minor way, became, in the end, the servants of State-sponsored wickedness. “This should be a warning to all civilized nations, and particularly to individuals who are blinded by the ‘efficiency’ of a totalitarian rule, under whatever name.”  

Only in Holland did the Dutch physicians see through the seemingly innocuous requests of the Reich Commisar “to assist…in the maintenance, improvement and re-establishment of [their patients’] vitality, physical efficiency and health. The accomplishment of this duty is a public task” — innocent sounding, indeed; very much the language of public health. “But they rejected it unanimously because they saw what it actually meant — namely, the concentration of their efforts on mere rehabilitation of the sick for useful labor”, i.e. for the benefit not of the patient, but the State, “and abolition of medical secrecy”.

“Although on the surface the new order appeared not too grossly unacceptable, the Dutch physicians decided that it is the first, although slight, step away from principle that is the most important one.” Thus it came about that not a single euthanasia or non-therapeutic sterilization was “recommended or participated in by any Dutch physician”.

I do not suggest an equivalence between 1930s Germany and 21st century Britain today. Nonetheless, very few then — in any country — saw much amiss at first. “Corrosion begins in microscopic proportions.”

When we dare to succumb to that first subtle ethical shift, perhaps just by being willing to think, or say — especially to children — “it’s just a little jab; it’s a public duty, and it’s what you really must do for the good of the rest of society”, we need to ask whether we may have just taken a first step on what may prove to be a steep and slippery slope. 

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