Are vaccine mandates legal and ethical? If I have control over my own body and my own health, how can the government or my employer force me to get vaccinated?
Right now we’re seeing a lot of businesses across Canada require their employees get vaccinated. Several provinces (including BC) are requiring proof of vaccination for anyone wanting to eat at restaurants or go to the movies.
How is any of this legal? You can read detailed responses from legal scholars, but the gist is public safety trumps your personal freedoms. Your right to do something dangerous ends when it impacts those around you. It’s why you can’t smoke in restaurants anymore or drive a car as fast as you want. Employers are tasked with ensuring their workplaces are safe. If the safest way to have people back in the office is to require they be vaccinated, then it’s perfectly legal for an employer to do that.
This isn’t any different than the other rules that employers put in place to ensure a safe and comfortable workplace. Sure, it’s “my body, my choice”, but I can’t show up to work naked or drunk or high.
The COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers will claim this is unjust and unethical.
Here we have an ethics professor at Huron College claiming she is going to lose her job because she won’t get vaccinated. She encourages people to think critically, so let’s break down her arguments.
“I am facing imminent dismissal after 20 years on the job because I will not submit to having an experimental vaccine injected into my body.”
First, her employer isn’t forcing her to get a vaccine. The university has set guidelines that anyone who is on campus needs to be vaccinated for the health and safety of those around them. She won’t get fired for being unvaccinated (and contrary the text at the end of the video she hasn’t been fired yet). If she is fired, it will be for either not showing up to her job or showing up unfit to work. Just like her employer isn’t forcing her to be sober and clothed, but if she insisted on teaching drunk and nude she would eventually get fired. I’m not privy to her work contract, but she likely has choices here. She can probably teach online classes or take a year sabbatical, but she wants to be a victim.
Second, the vaccine isn’t experimental. Over the past 9 months, over 5 billion doses have been administered. If she’s wants a vaccine that has finished clinical trials, she can take the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It received full FDA approval on August 23, 2021. So let’s stop with the “experimental” boogeyman.
As a professor, I don’t have to watch the news to know if the COVID vaccines are safe. I read medical journals and I consult my colleagues who are professors of science and medicine.
If she was truly reading journals she would know about the overwhelming evidence around the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
As for her colleagues, the Western doctors in the medical faculty have given numerous interviews about the importance of vaccines. And Ethics Professor Maxwell Smith dismantled her arguments on Twitter, saying: “The strength of a position in ethics comes from the support provided via reasons & arguments, not that it’s uttered by an ethicist. And her reasons used to support her position are distorted by falsehoods & concern areas about which she has no apparent expertise.”
The rest of the video is an ethical question built on a number of false premises, like the vaccine is experimental (again, it’s not), ineffective (it’s not perfect but it does a pretty damn good job), risky (the number of serious reactions is amazingly small), and protects people against an unthreatening virus (the millions of people who have died might disagree).
I’m not sure if Julie Ponesse will get fired for refusing to get vaccinated, but I think she deserves to lose her job for having a horrible grasp of logic, reasoning, and ethics. Given the video she posted, how could any first year student take her course and expect to receive a quality education?
There are some real ethical questions here, but Dr. Julie Ponesse completely misses them.
- How much freedom should we give people who refuse to consider the safety of those around them?
- Are people allowed to construct their own reality when the evidence is overwhelmingly to the contrary?
- How should hospitals balance the demands of treating unvaccinated COVID patients with other patients?
- Is it right to cancel elective surgeries because capacity is needed to treat unvaccinated COVID patients?
Unfortunately, these aren’t theoritical questions anymore. Across Canada, hospitals are increasingly filling up with unvaccinated people who have serious cases of COVID.
The result is surgeries are being cancelled. If you need a hip replacement in Calgary or surgery to remove a tumor – I’m sorry, but you need to wait because the doctors are busy dealing with unvaccinated patients with COVID.
If we had private medicine, this would work itself with increased costs for the unvaccinated (either through hospital bills or insurance premiums). It’s already happening in the USA. But we have a public health care system, we treat people regardless of why they got sick, and it is up to governments to figure out the right policies to keep people safe and our healthcare affordable.
My deepest gratitude goes out to the doctors and nurses working in our hospital who have been dealing with this pandemic for 18 months now. It can’t be easy.
Update: More details on the case of Julie Ponesse have come out since I wrote this. According to an article in the National Post, which includes quotes from Ponesse and from her email correspondence with the university, she was never fired. When she informed the university that she was going to refuse to be vaccinated and refuse the alternative she was offered (wearing a mask while teaching and regular testing – which I would point out are very reasonable accommodations), then she was informed she would be dismissed from teaching and placed on paid leave.
As long as she refuses to act in a safe manor, she can’t be on campus. That’s a simple employment concern not an ethical debate. I’m a bit surprised the university put her on paid leave. But she’s an associate prof who has an annual contract. It’s probably simpler to let her ride out the year and then not renew her contract. That might seem like a win for Ponesse, but her future employment opportunities are now severely limited.