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Artillery Row

Vaccine passports and the recalibration of social ethics

Vaccine passports would undermine one of the most fundamental rights in a civilised society: autonomy over one’s own body

I do not give blood.

I have done it a couple of times, but my fear of needles is quite extreme and the last time I donated I nearly had a panic attack, meaning I was surrounded by nurses for the duration of my donation, slowing down the process for everyone else. They politely asked me not to come back.

The failure to participate in a noble act is not immoral

Only about four per cent of people give blood. It is most certainly a noble thing to do, like giving money to charity or volunteering in the community. But that doesn’t mean the other 96 per cent are bad or selfish people. The failure to participate in a noble act is not immoral. To put it another way, giving blood saves lives. Failing to give blood is not murder.

If you have a rare blood type, your blood is even more valuable to society than someone else’s — but this does not mean you have a moral, social or legal obligation to protect other people by donating. The right of the individual to choose is more important than the “greater good” of society. We have always known this. That is why giving blood is voluntary. This is why there is no punishment for abstaining. This is why there is no reward for participating, other than receiving a sticker and biscuit. Any form of coercion would be morally reprehensible.

Autonomy over one’s own body is absolute — one of the most fundamental rights in a civilised society. So important is this autonomy that it even extends beyond our own death. Our organs may only be harvested for life-saving transplants with our prior consent. Becoming an organ donor (another good thing to do) was, until very recently, an opt-in system. Again, there is no reward for participating and no punishment for abstaining.

Any medical intervention that is for the benefit of society, with no conceivable benefit for the individual, must always be voluntary. The rights, freedoms or opportunities conferred on an individual in society should never be contingent on participation in such an act.

Imagine if blood donation was a prerequisite for going to the theatre. Imagine if you had to show your organ donor card in order to get into a restaurant. Imagine if you had to donate bone marrow before you could go to a football game. Imagine if you had to accept any socially beneficial medical intervention before you were entitled to chemotherapy on the NHS.

For centuries, women have fought for the right to bodily autonomy. Having an abortion is a medical intervention, and women are just as entitled to it as any other treatment. But by adopting a philosophy which surrenders our medical autonomy to the state, we are hypothetically giving governments the power to ban abortions. Moreover, we are giving them the power to enforce them, if they so choose.

The rights of the individual to assess risk and prioritise the quality of their own life has been forgotten

In the past 12 months, dramatic shifts in mainstream attitudes to public health have moved us closer to this reality. The rights of the individual to assess risk and prioritise the quality of their own life has not only been forgotten — it has been scoffed at and derided, as though it never existed in the first place. The precedent set by the smallest step towards this broken philosophy is incredibly dangerous. Over the next few weeks, we must all ask ourselves what kind of world we want our children to grow up in. Do we grant them ownership of their bodies — indeed, their self, their soul, their identities? Or do we bequeath that ownership to the state? Some may argue that vaccine passports are the first step towards eradicating a disease. Rather, they are the first step towards the eradication of basic human rights.

Tom Moran is a screenwriter working in television and film in the UK and US. 

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