In the fall of 2021, Carley Fletcher was terminated from her job at Emory University Healthcare for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine. Fletcher’s health history included seizures and respiratory issues and she was advised by her doctor not to get the shot. Fletcher applied for a medical exemption, but her request was denied, and she was fired.
Fletcher’s life is one of thousands around the country – and the world – devastated by COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Individual health decisions – once kept private to the point of taboo – suddenly became the topic of dinner party conversations and Supreme Court hearings. Across the country, cities began requiring vaccination for indoor dining and activities – first New York, followed by New Orleans, Boston, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and dozens more.
As Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said,
“This health order may pose an inconvenience to the unvaccinated, and in fact it is inconvenient by design."
Individuals unwilling to get vaccinated were overnight relegated to second-class citizens, losing everything from their right to dine at restaurants to their entire livelihoods.
It began in September 2021 when OSHA announced that employees at companies employing more than 100 people would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Supreme Court ultimately deemed this mandate illegal, but the threat impacted two thirds of the American workforce.
Read that again: two thirds of all American workers were being forced to consent to a medical procedure or lose their jobs – their income, their benefits, their career trajectories.
Vaccine mandates, while deceptively innocuous to the untrained eye (“it’s in the interest of public health”), are totalitarian, inhumane, and directly in conflict with the underpinnings of a free world.
There are many good reasons an individual might choose to decline a medical procedure. No medical procedure on earth is right for every body, every time, and no government has a right to bar you from society for declining its medical demands.
Medical Consent in the Twentieth Century
When the Nuremberg trials exposed the sickening atrocities of Nazi doctors, the public encountered a terrifying new tension between public health and individual human rights. Fifteen physicians were found guilty of crimes against humanity for their treatment of individuals during the war – ranging from medical experimentation to outright torture.
After this trial, the Nuremberg Code was established, introducing the standard of informed consent. The most important provision was the first:
"The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential . . . the person involved should have the legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision. . ."
The Nuremberg Code is a legal precedent based on a moral standard. Forcing individuals into a medical experiment violates their human rights. The morality came first, and the code followed.
The Nuremberg Code was specifically about forced medical experimentation, not all forced medical procedures. Also, the Code has an unfortunate loophole for “emergency” health orders. But while it may not apply directly to the vaccine mandates, the Nuremberg Code shows how important medical consent has been in the human rights tradition.
Morality has no loopholes; it is not subjective, nor based on convenience. Forcing any medical procedures, experimental or not, (especially procedures with questions about long-term harm) is immoral, no matter what the external circumstances.
The Nuremberg Code was followed by the Declaration of Human Rights, which referenced the idea of bodily integrity in multiple places, including Article 3 (“Every individual has the right to life, liberty and security of person”) and Article 5 (“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”). The latter was later expanded to include an additional line: “In particular, no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.”
Again, this set the morality as immutable – as the American Bar Association explains: “Under the treaty, [this article] is nonderogable, even ‘in times of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.’”
All these ideas are tied to the concept of bodily autonomy, also known as bodily integrity – the idea that your body is your own, and that no one has a right to inflict force or harm upon it.
Since the introduction of the Nuremberg Code, violations of this moral standard have occurred, and have been met with appropriate horror – like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which was met with national outrage and led to changes in the concept of informed consent in both legal and medical ethics codes.
Bodily Autonomy Is an Inalienable Right
The Declaration of Independence – a key founding text of the United States – posits a statement that would be echoed nearly 200 years later in the Nuremberg Code: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The term “unalienable” is important. An unalienable right is a right that cannot be separated from your person. You and it are indivisible.
Your bodily autonomy is an unalienable right. You cannot justly separate yourself from your bodily autonomy, nor sell it away (e.g. by selling yourself into slavery – an act which sounds ludicrous in the modern understanding of freedom).
A medical procedure can endanger an individual’s life – and an enforced procedure on an individual is in stark violation of “life and liberty.”
The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution establishes the idea too, recognizing “The right of the people to be secure in their person,” (again a line that would later be echoed in the Nuremberg Code).
As the Declaration of Independence stated, the sole purpose of the government is “to secure these rights.”
These passages have set legal precedent for medical freedom in the United States ever since – like in 2017, when a judge in Tennessee was sued over offering reduced jail sentences to inmates if they agreed to undergo sterilization. He was found guilty of violating the constitution by coercing people into undergoing medical procedures.
The Constitution, no matter how admirable its intentions, cannot prevent all abuses of bodily integrity. We still see cases that alienate people from their rights – like military conscription, forced custodianship, or sectioning off the clinically insane. But while the ideal doesn’t always translate to reality, it is used to hold people accountable, as was the case with the Tennessee judge.
An Invasion of Both Body and Rights
This became one of the core tenets of the liberal tradition: the idea of property rights; and more importantly, of the individual as his or her own unalienable property, against which no other individual or collective had the right to aggress.
Stealing someone’s property is a crime. Trespassing on someone’s property is a crime. Violating someone’s bodily autonomy is a crime.
This is the non-aggression principle, the idea that no individual or collective has the right to violate someone else’s person or property. As Murray Rothbard summarized it, “no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else.”
Further, the sole purpose of the government, as outlined by Locke, is “for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties and estates, which I call by the general name, property. The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into common-wealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”
Or in simpler terms: “government has no other end but the preservation of property.”
Some have argued that vaccinations are an act of self-defense, of the collective against the mutual enemy of a virus, but that argument doesn’t hold up. To claim vaccines as self defense would require vaccines to be 100 percent safe, 100 percent effective, and the virus 100 percent fatal – none of which can be proven with certainty.
If we cannot have this certainty, then we must defer to bodily autonomy.
As Leonard Read wrote in On Keeping the Peace: “My thesis, in simplest terms, is: Let anyone do anything he pleases, so long as it is peaceful; the role of government, then, is to keep the peace…”
This idea applies both specifically to bodily autonomy and broadly to the role of government itself: “Keeping the peace means no more than prohibiting persons from unpeaceful actions. This, with its elaborate machinery for defining what shall be prohibited (codifying the law), along with the interpretation, administration, and enforcement of the law, is all the prohibition I want from government—for me or for anyone else.”
If government is a mechanism for protecting autonomy and peaceful activity, those activities should also limit government’s scope: “When government goes beyond this, that is, when government prohibits peaceful actions, such prohibitions themselves are, prima facie, unpeaceful. How much of a statist a person is can be judged by how far he would go in prohibiting peaceful actions.”
When a government agency pressured Emory University Healthcare to institute an order that led to Carly Fletcher being fired, it overstepped its proper role – and violated the rights of the peaceful people it should be protecting.
Government vaccine mandates violate the moral principles of medical consent, bodily autonomy, and self-ownership. They should be abolished as crimes against humanity and never happen again.