Public health ethics
A libertarian case for mandatory vaccination
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The article by Brennan , which has just been drawn to my attention, only exists in hypothetically perfect world in which medical evidence is always clear cut and bureaucracies beyond fallibility, bias, corruption or perhaps even scrutiny - it hinges like a lot of ethical investigations round the word "if". You could agree "y" if "x" (though I am not sure whether in this case it would be a libertarian argument as opposed to just an argument) but we do not have flawless bureaucracies making perfect decisions based on immutable scientific laws. Of course, a crucial argument relating to political liberty is just that bureaucracies are inevitably imperfect.
While we could explore and criticize the basis of many such decisions (and despite huge institutional pressures many criticisms of vaccine products lie within mainstream scientific debate, for instance issues regarding influenza vaccination, HPV, aluminum adjuvants, mercury preservatives etc.) we are simply not talking about a branch of science which admits of such certainties. Nor are we dealing with just a few products. The US mandated schedule has perhaps dozens of products already, with hundreds in the pipeline which depend for their commercial viability on being licensed and mandated in their turn. Brennan does not engage with the problem that is not about one or two instances (for instance MMR vaccine is often cited) but an indefinitely large number products which could become c...Show More
Jason Brennan presents a justification for mandatory vaccination policy from a libertarian perspective. I reevaluate Brennan’s argument, focusing on the applicability and potential limit of the clean hands principle he proposed. I argue that the clean hands principle cannot tell us how to weight the degrees of risk of different collectively harmful activities; therefore, we could not distinguish the relative significance of coercive interventions that aim at stopping different kinds of collectively harmful activities. Using secondhand smoke prevention as an analogous policy example, I illustrate that many behaviors that suffice the five conditions could be qualified as collectively harmful activities. These activities are hence subject to coercive policies that are justified by the clean hands principle, including those obviously infringe individual rights and civil liberties and contradict with libertarianism. For libertarians, this implication of the clean hands principle might not be too comfortable to accept.
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Using David Gauthier’s strategy, Jason Brennan demonstrates that even starting with a theory “with strongly individualist and antigovernment premises” such as libertarianism, mandatory vaccination is justifiable (p.37).1 Drawing on one of his own works, Brennan argues that the clean hands principle requires a person not to participate in collectively harmful activities, and that libertarians should accept governments’ coercive...
Brennan offers an interesting strategy in "A libertarian case for mandatory vaccination," though in form it is the common "devil's advocate." The apparently least charitable bases for one's own position (in this case libertarian premises) are granted for the sake of argument; one's position is nevertheless found defensible (mandatory vaccination); and thus the harshest critics are answered without having to pay out a fu...