Much has been written over the last few months about how unelected bureaucrats, with the unquestioning acquiescence of our politicians, have acquired incredible and unparalleled power over the everyday lives of Australians. This had led to such bureaucrats, revelling in their new-found power, seemingly making policy on the run and treating us like fools who need to be told on a daily basis what is good for us (or else!). It is a dangerous time for our democracy, where the ‘dictatorship of the health bureaucracy’ has emerged, whereby a virus, labelled as a pandemic, is being used to take away fundamental rights and freedoms, handed down to us by our great Westminster tradition, with the stroke of a pen. This is notwithstanding several renowned epidemiologists, including Professor Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University, stating that the policies of these bureaucrats such as lockdowns are actually causing more harm than the virus itself. Recent events have demonstrated the potential for health officials to enact policies that will exert even more control over our lives, which could have serious implications for the principle of informed consent – fundamental in the administration of any medical treatment.
Following his announcement of 19 August that a letter of intent had been signed with AstraZeneca to produce the Oxford vaccine in Australia, should it be successful, the Prime Minister suggested that any coronavirus vaccine be “as mandatory as possible”. He also entertained a “no jab, no play” type policy to “encourage” as many people as possible to take it. While Scott Morrison backtracked somewhat on this “mandatory” stance later the same day, the following morning the Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, in an interview give to Channel 7’s Sunrise, did not rule out taking measures to make it difficult to refuse the vaccine, including a denial of government welfare payments to those who did not vaccinate. This was followed by the Deputy Health Officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, postulating that without the coronavirus vaccine jab Australians would not be allowed to go to restaurants, use public transport or travel overseas. Leaving to one side for a moment the ugly spectacle of the government and its Politburo of medical officers proposing to further and more brazenly and egregiously restricting the rights and freedoms of Australians, this latest draconian approach is simply not warranted on the basis of the evidence.
In an interview on 3AW on 19 August (when Scott Morrison first suggested he wanted any vaccine to be mandatory) he added that the aim was for a 95% take-up of the vaccine, since this is the level of immunity that is required. The Health Minister said the same thing on Channel 7’s Sunrise the following day. What they may have chosen to ignore is that, for most viruses, herd immunity is achieved if 60 to 70 per cent of the population is immune. In fact, in an article in Newsweek on 24 June, it was reported, quoting from an article in the journal Science, that the herd immunity threshold for coronavirus could be as low as 43%.
What also seems to have been conveniently ignored is the rate of infection when compared to the general population. The Prime Minister, in justifying a mandatory approach, on 19 August referred to the number of coronavirus-related deaths and infections around the world. As has been pointed out many times in this publication and several others, when compared to other pandemics, these numbers are actually quite small. At the time of writing, the World Health Organisation has certified a total number of 24,834,866 infections and 839,221 deaths. The current population of the world is 7.8 billion. Thus we have an infection rate of 0.3% and a death rate of 0.01%, with the vast majority of these being people aged over 80. As Professor James Allan noted recently in The Spectator, the Hong Kong flu epidemic of 1969 killed around 100,000 Americans. Corona-related deaths in America currently stand at 176,645 (according to the Centre for Disease Control), therefore about the same percentage of the population in historical terms. Yet in 1969, there were no lockdowns, and Woodstock was not cancelled. Professor Allan also noted that coronavirus is not even in the top 50 causes of death in Australia. As Paul Murray stated on 19 August, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a report in early August of the total number of deaths in Australia for the first half of 2020. The number was 55,047, and top of the list was cancer (18,959), followed by respiratory illnesses (7,540), dementia (5,794), heart disease (5,175), and cerebrovascular (3,497). Flu and pneumonia have taken the lives of 974 Australians this year, considerably more than the total number of coronavirus related deaths, which at the time of writing stands at 611.
Even in the face of these figures, what is more serious is the utter stubbornness born out of an apparent “Trump Derangement Syndrome” which ignores the effectiveness of the potential treatments of hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin, both with zinc. In the case of the former, over the weekend the renowned Yale epidemiologist, Dr Harvey Risch, specified that there have been 53 studies showing positive results of its use in COVID infections. There are 14 that show neutral or negative results. Of those, 10 were conducted in the later stages of the illness where no anti-viral drug would be expected to have much effect. Of the remaining studies, Risch asserts, two come from the same author. Then there is a faulty study from Brazil and should be retracted. The other is also faulty, published in The Lancet, and was retracted. Risch told Newsweek he “cannot believe that, in the midst of a crisis, he is fighting for a treatment that the data fully supports but for reasons having nothing to do with a correct understanding of science, it has been pushed to the sidelines. As a result, tens of thousands of patients with COVID-19 are dying unnecessarily. Fortunately, the situation can be reversed easily and quickly”. This seems to be completely in accord with the medical profession’s Hippocratic Oath, that is, to do no harm. Yet the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment is shut down by the health commissars. Doctors Sutton and Coatsworth on 26 and 28 August respectively dismissed it once more with a level of haughtiness that takes one’s breath away. With regard to ivermectin, as Rebecca Weisser has reported in this publication, Dr Kylie Wagstaff from Monash University is struggling to get any funding to conduct proper clinical trials. When the potential of these drugs was first announced, the COVID-related death toll was under 50. At the time of writing it stands at 611. How many of those deaths could have been prevented? As Andrew Bolt identified, this is willful blindness to “what could be our best cure” in the fight against coronavirus. So much for the Hippocratic Oath.
This brings me to the issue of trust, necessary not only between a doctor and patient but also between the people and their government. Given the track record of our politicians and medical officers over the last few months, which to say the least is dismal, it would seem that trust in them is dwindling. Yet they only have themselves to blame. Adam Creighton reported in The Australian on 22 June about the over-reliance of our health commissars on failed doomsday health forecast models. Now it has emerged the Federal Government failed miserably at developing policies to protect residents of nursing homes, they being the most vulnerable and where the highest incidence of death has occurred.
We’ve had the Chief Medical Officer in Victoria proselytise on coronavirus and climate change, precisely at the time it seems he ought to have been aware of the impending disaster in the hotel quarantine system. His Deputy, in trying to display her woke credentials, also showed her lack of historical knowledge by getting Captain Cook and Captain Arthur Phillip mixed up. After the Ruby Princess and Newmarch House debacles, how the New South Wales Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, still has a job is anyone’s guess. Our State borders are shut, despite there being little to no community transmission in most States and both Territories, causing massive job losses and mental health issues to skyrocket. However, most tragically, this senseless politicking by State Premiers has also led to the death of an unborn child. We cannot even leave the country except in “exceptional” circumstances, decided by an unelected bureaucrat with no right of judicial review. So Shane Warne gets an exemption to go to commentate on the cricket in England but other Australians are not permitted to leave to visit dying relatives. Oh, and remember when the government tried to extort the Australian public, telling us the COVID-Safe app (later shown to be a complete flop) was the ticket to getting our freedoms back? Remember who was the face of that campaign? None other than Dr Nick Coatsworth! .It seems this guy cannot help himself. On 24 August, after the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher raised serious ethical and moral considerations for his flock regarding the production of the Oxford coronavirus vaccine, Dr Coastworth decided he was also an expert on Catholic moral theology. In a post on his Facebook page, Archbishop Fisher stated that he had written to the Prime Minister outlining his concerns that the Oxford vaccine, among others, is being produced from the cultured cell lines of an electively aborted foetus. This would present Catholics with a serious ethical dilemma, notwithstanding the cell-line is derived from an abortion occurred in 1972. Dr Coatsworth responded by stating that the vaccine was being produced by one of the world’s leading universities and “we can have every faith that the way they have manufactured the vaccine has been against the highest of ethical standards internationally.” Further, Professor Colin Pouton from Monash University’s Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences chimed in, stating the cell line was developed decades ago and had been widely used around the world. “It’s not like people are using a new cell line,” he said. “It’s already there, so in many respects the ethical issue is in history”.
I’m not sure what makes these two people think they know more about Catholic moral teaching than the Archbishop of Sydney. The Catholic Church has opposed the development of vaccines using unethically derived foetal cell lines for many years. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 2008 Instruction Dignitas Personae provides that the use of foetal cell lines for developing vaccines “gives rise to various ethical problems with regard to cooperation in evil and with regard to scandal” and that “everyone has the duty to make known their disagreement and to ask that their healthcare system make other types of vaccines available.” This is precisely what Archbishop Fisher has done, expressing a wish that other vaccine candidates which are not produced with the cell lines of aborted foetuses be explored. In this letter, which was also signed by Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies and Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia Archbishop Makarios, the Church leaders stated that they and their Churches are not opposed to vaccination. However, harvesting “foetal tissue was deeply immoral” and thus, members of their congregations might consider their “individual conscience” and refuse a vaccine even if no other alternative was available to them.
Notwithstanding a clerical leader raising legitimate ethical concerns regarding the possibility that many in his flock may naively consent to medical treatment being administered under effective duress (facing the threat of the loss of welfare payments, etc.), this has received short-shrift from politicians. Shadow Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers has no qualms about this issue and told the ABC on 24 August: “My personal view is if and when a vaccine is available and it is rolled out, then as many people as possible should get vaccinated”. “I say that as a Catholic that that’s the best outcome for Australia because the vaccine is really what will get us to the other side”. This smacks of the same extortionate approach adopted with respect to the COVID-Safe app. What is more, when it comes to Catholic teaching, Labor politicians are the last people who should be giving advice on the subject. Just ask Victorians – Daniel Andrews calls himself a Catholic!
Given governments’ thirsty desire to erode fundamental rights and freedoms in the face of continuing failure, it is high time they now stopped telling people what is good for them and maybe asked them for a change. At the time of writing, a poll published on Channel 7’s website showed that 79% of respondents did not believe any coronavirus vaccine should be mandatory. Further, efforts to link people’s freedoms and welfare payments would strike me as constitutionally problematic. I am in fact surprised the ‘no jab, no play’ laws have not yet been challenged in this way. Section 51 (xxiiiA) of the Australian Constitution allows for the provision of various allowances and benefits by the Commonwealth Government, but not to the extent of authorising any civil conscription. It could thus be argued that no government is authorised to make the Australian people take any medication against their will, or force children to be vaccinated in order to maintain benefit payments.
Fortunately, over the days from 22 to 24 August, some form of common sense appeared to be prevailing, with several doctors urging governments to abandon measures to compel Australians to accept a coronavirus vaccine. The President of the Australian Medical Association, Omar Khorshid, said making vaccinations compulsory “sends the wrong message to the community” and is confident that the move won’t be necessary anyway. Dr Khorshid told the Sydney Morning Herald that tying vaccination to access to services such as childcare, school or social security payments, as State and Federal governments do with paediatric vaccines under ‘no jab, no play’ and ‘no jab, no pay’ laws, could not be justified with a brand new corona vaccine.
“We have to acknowledge it is a rushed approval process and even if the phase three trials on this Oxford vaccine go really well, it’s still not absolutely proven that it is safe, not as proven as is normally the case”. He added: “That does increase the risk that there might be rare side effects …that we just don’t know about.” Dr Korshid also called for the Federal Government to establish a no-fault vaccine injury compensation scheme before rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine. “If society is asking everyone to get vaccinated to protect each other, we have a collective responsibility to look after the very rare and unfortunate individuals who are harmed by vaccines.”
This gets back to the issue I raised at the start of this article, that of informed consent. Just because we are assured something is safe, or legal, it does not necessarily mean it is. Many people are still haunted by, and show the horrible effects of, thalidomide, a drug marketed as a sedative and given to pregnant women in the 1950s and 60s as a treatment for morning sickness. The drug subsequently caused babies to be born with a range of deformities. An Australian obstetrician, William McBride, alerted the world to its terrible side effects and the drug was withdrawn. As recounted by his daughter Catherine in The Australian on 2 July 2018, his initial attempt to do so was rejected by guess who? – The Lancet (even though the journal subsequently published a letter written by him on the issue, which sparked the investigations into the drug) – and he paid the price for this act of courage for years afterwards.
Australians have been lectured constantly, in increasingly condescending tones, by politicians and their health apparatchiks over the last six months. It seems most of this lecturing has involved bad advice and led to unnecessary authoritarian-style policies with a complete failure to protect the most vulnerable. Now it is my turn to tell them something. Memo to the Prime Minister, the State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers, the Federal, State and Territory Health Ministers, the Federal, State and Territory Attorneys-General, the Federal Minister for Home Affairs, and all Medical Officers around the country. Do not tell me anymore what is for my own good. I will work that out for myself. I always have. And, as far as taking any coronavirus vaccine is concerned, that will be my decision and mine alone, after I have taken the time to inform myself on all aspects regarding it, freely and fully. Get it? If not, refer once more to the above…
Dr Rocco Loiacono is Senior Lecturer at Curtin University Law School.
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