Nov 24, 2009

the Siracusa Principles and compulsory immunization

For debaters creating a rights-based Negative for the immunization resolution, the UN's human rights jurisprudence is worth a serious look. In their study titled "Detention and the Evolving Threat of Tuberculosis: Evidence, Ethics, and Law," found in The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 2007, Coker et al. note that the Siracusa Principles of the UN's Commission on Human Rights, published in 1984, offer a criterion for determining whether individual rights can be restricted in a public health emergency.

Summing up the Principles, the authors write,
The first of the principles is the notion of whether any proposed restriction on liberty is a legitimate objective of general concern... Is the restriction provided for and carried out in accordance with the law? Many democratic countries have legal structures in which coercive public health interventions are sanctioned.... A second principle questions whether available alternatives that are less intrusive and restrictive have been tried.... Another principle addresses the arbitrary, unreasonable or discriminatory manner in which a sanction might be imposed.
When we look to the Principles themselves, we can see specific language regarding public health as a justification for limiting individual rights:
Public health may be invoked as a ground for limiting certain rights in order to allow a State to take measures dealing with a serious threat to the health of the population or individual members of the population. These measures must be specifically aimed at preventing disease or injury or providing care for the sick and injured.
The question is, which "certain rights?" Or, more to the point, which rights cannot be infringed--or, in legal terms, are "nonderogable?"
No State party shall, even in time of emergency threatening the life of the nation, derogate from the Covenant's guarantees of the right to life; freedom from torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and from medical or scientific experimentation without free consent; freedom from slavery or involuntary servitude; the right not to be imprisoned for contractual debt; the right not to be convicted or sentenced to a heavier penalty by virtue of retroactive criminal legislation; the right to recognition as a person before the law; and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.These rights are not derogable under any conditions even for the asserted purpose of preserving the life of the nation.
The rights concerned are detailed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And note that last sentence, which is about as strong a statement in favor of the Neg as you are likely to see in international law.


Matt said...

Except which of those rights are taken away by Compulsory Immunization?

Jim Anderson said...

A case can be made that Compulsory Immunization is degrading treatment (dehumanizing persons, using them as a mere means to an end, forcing them to be subjected to pain and potential suffering). It can also be made that CI is medical experimentation (compelling immunization in a public health emergency with a vaccine that hasn't been fully tested).

However, those are a bit of a stretch, especially compared to the last one, which is crystal clear: CI can violate "freedom of thought, conscience, or religion," when one's thought, conscience, or religion demands exemption.

jspears said...

What about Individual Freedom on the AFF? Tying with Maslow's hierarchy to say without health there is no freedom?

Anonymous said...

Jim, I think you may be misinterpreting freedom of thought here. It would be wrong for a country to restrict the speech of anti-vaccine activists, but not force people to take vaccines: Otherwise, this reading seems to prevent any country from compelling citizens to do nearly anything. And if it were a violation of concience, religious exception might take care of that.

Jim Anderson said...

Anonymous, obviously governments can and do carve out religious exemptions; but for the purposes of this debate, allowing conscience- or religious-based exemptions removes much, if not all, the Negative's ground.

I don't consider the Siracusa Principles a knock-down argument for the Negative, since they do require interpretation--what actually counts as freedom of conscience? The point is that they establish a strong presumption in favor of that freedom, even in the case of a national emergency. It puts the burden on the Affirmative to show that, as a general principle, enforced vaccination ought to trump one's most fundamental freedom.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't the freedom from medical experimentation without free consent be used for the fact that the population as a whole is given the vaccine and info is collected on the effectiveness, ex. number of deaths averted, from the population as a whole?

Jim Anderson said...

anonymous, if the vaccine itself is experimental, you could make that argument; otherwise, it's a bit of a stretch.