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Sun Aug 1, 2021, 11:40 AM

'How to Talk About Freedom During a Pandemic'

How to Talk About Freedom During a Pandemic
Anti-stay-at-home protesters aren’t the only ones with an argument based on individual rights on their side.

By Graham Mooney
MAY 19, 2020


In the 19th century, public-health officials weren’t facing just one infectious disease, but many: scarlet fever, diphtheria, typhus, cholera, tuberculosis, and smallpox, which together killed tens of thousands every year. Epidemics were common, and doctors could do almost nothing to stop them... Over decades, a group of pioneering scientists, doctors, and government officials realized that isolation, disinfection, contact tracing, and other now-familiar public-health strategies had the potential to decrease the spread of many diseases. Scientists such as Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur developed the germ theory of disease, which showed that infectious illness was caused by microbes passed from person to person. This idea provided more evidence for the measures advocated by the reformers.

But, just as today, a significant minority strongly resisted, arguing that these measures impinged on their freedom. For instance, in 1890,16,000 people in Nottingham signed a petition against mandatory hospitalization for those sick with infectious diseases. The petition described isolation in the hospital as a "prison [that] deprives us of our right to nurse our sick and claim our dead." Sometimes resistance to such measures became violent: During a cholera epidemic in 1832, riots broke out in Liverpool and other English cities when people rebelled against doctors’ attempts to move patients from their homes to hospitals. Widespread rumors claimed that these patients would be killed and their bodies dissected for medical research.

In response to these vehement appeals to individual freedom, public-health leaders in London, Liverpool, Manchester and elsewhere developed a powerful counterargument. They too framed their argument in terms of freedom—freedom from disease. To protect citizens’ right to be free from disease, in their view, governments and officials needed the authority to isolate those who were sick, vaccinate people, and take other steps to reduce the risk of infectious disease.

One of the most important reformers was George Buchanan, the chief medical officer for England from 1879 to 1892. He argued that cities and towns had the authority to take necessary steps to ensure the communal “sanitary welfare.” He and other reformers based their arguments on an idea developed by the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who is, ironically, remembered largely as a staunch defender of individual liberty. Mill articulated what he called the “harm principle,” which asserts that while individual liberty is sacrosanct, it should be limited when it will harm others: “The sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty and action of any of their number, is self-protection,” Mill wrote in On Liberty in 1859. Public-health reformers argued that the harm principle gave them the authority to pursue their aims.

An essay published in The Lancet in 1883 sums up this view nicely: “We cannot see that there is any undue violation of personal liberty in the sanitary authority acting for the whole community, requiring to be informed of the existence of diseases dangerous to others. A man’s liberty is not to involve risk to others,” the author wrote. “A man with smallpox has the natural liberty to travel in a cab or an omnibus; but society has a right that overrides his natural liberty, and says he shall not.”


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Donkees Aug 1 OP
rickyhall Aug 1 #1
crickets Aug 1 #2

Response to Donkees (Original post)

Sun Aug 1, 2021, 02:07 PM

1. As far I'm concerned the cannibis prohibition has ALWAYS put a damper on my freedom.

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Response to Donkees (Original post)

Sun Aug 1, 2021, 04:25 PM

2. K&R for visibility.

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