Everyone should be entitled to make up their own mind about their own medical care. There are many Australians who are concerned about the COVID 19 vaccines and many more who hold religious views which restrict them from taking the vaccine. To be so inclined is their right.
The recent announcement of a “Four-Phase Plan” to return to pre-pandemic conditions, details the use of a digital Medicare vaccination certificate and for all intents and purposes represents a “vaccine passport”.
The term “vaccine passport” is a relatively new one and refers to the documentation of a person’s medical details including the dates of their COVID 19 vaccination injections. There is an understandable apprehension in the community that such a document may lead to discrimination against Australians who have elected not to receive a vaccination.
For many, it is feared that if they do not get vaccinated, they will be denied access to services such as domestic travel and that their rights will be taken away. There is also concern that this is a slippery slope and will set a precedent for further discrimination in the future. I share these concerns.
The government has repeatedly stated that there will be no widespread mandatory vaccination however, if a system documenting who has received a vaccine is rolled out, protections need to be in place to ensure that it does not result in discrimination or worse, a form of coercion violating the principles of informed consent.
The Australian Immunisation Handbook states: “[vaccines] must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation,” and the Nuremberg Code of 1947 states:
[T]he voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the 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 introduction of a vaccine passport cannot be allowed to lead to an “ulterior form of constraint or coercion” to receive a medical treatment. This is exactly the kind of thing that the Nuremberg Code was created to prevent. What is the point of affirming human rights in international law if one does not adhere to their principles?
In the same breath, we also need to make sure that we do not allow the corporate world to become the enforcers of unwanted medical treatment. It is not difficult to envisage a future where businesses such as airlines, movie cinemas and shopping malls require proof of vaccination before they provide services. The totalitarians of the corporate world cannot be allowed to become the agents of social tyranny.
We cannot allow our system of government to separate Australian citizens into two classes (the vaccinated and the unvaccinated) by introducing vaccine passports or imposing restrictions on unvaccinated citizens. If we do, several things are likely to occur.
First, the rights of the unvaccinated will be removed simply because they refuse to participate in medical treatment, as is their right. Are we to declare them to be modern-day lepers and shun them from society?
Second, there arises a likelihood that many vaccinated people will view unvaccinated people as a threat (even though they are themselves vaccinated) and treat them with hostility and suspicion. In turn, unvaccinated people might resent this ill-treatment and return the favour. Why would we seek to pit Australians against one another in this manner?
No government or bureaucracy should ever have the power to coerce a person to undergo medical treatment against their will. The individual must retain the right to speak to his or her medical practitioner and make their own choices.
We cannot tell Australian citizens that they can only work, travel or see their family if they undergo a medical procedure. Our role must be to inform and encourage, not to coerce.
Australians have the right to decide for themselves whether they wish to be vaccinated, or to pursue other means of prevention and treatment. Forcing people to take part in medical treatment is unethical, potentially a violation of international law, and sets a dark precedent for this country. We cannot go down this road.
Alex Antic is a Liberal Senator for South Australia.
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