Ever since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, something politely termed as debate has raged between a deeply factional society. Bodily autonomy and freedom are two terms thrown around often by people who simply don’t understand the concepts they’re discussing. And whilst we’re told as we grow that we sometimes simply need to learn to disagree civilly with people whose views differ from our own- what do we do when those views carry potentially deadly consequences? Is someone’s skewed view of liberty worth dying for?
What is freedom to you?
It’s a question I’ve asked myself hundreds of times throughout this pandemic. The answer is more closely tied to the repercussions of Brexit, oddly. Freedom to me was the right to rights themselves. Losing the right to free movement sickened me, as someone who always loved, and wanted to move to, the continent but was prevented through fear of distance between myself and my family. The right to rights is a strange sentence, but being bound or restricted But as the coronavirus spread around the world and I saw the death toll mount, I- and many others- knew that our freedom was imperilled.
As the pandemic has raged on burning away people’s lives, making people long term sick, tanking economies, worsening wealth disparity many people have woken up to injustices- but in very different ways. Some of us fight with desperation to remove a government intent on enacting damaging laws, from the throttling of our democratic right to protest, to curtailment of our ability to aid those in distress who are not UK citizens, to removing “dissidents'” citizenship, to the enfranchisement of voting by implicitly attaching a cost to votership.
Some rage against a system they see as horrifically authoritarian for enacting emergency powers to restrict movement and interaction amongst people- enacted to control the spread of the coronavirus but to some, the reasoning of “a virus with a 97% survival rate” is a flimsy one.
This is where so many of us fundamentally differ. In 2020 the human population estimate is 7.753 billion.
If 3% of these people died, this would be a death count of 232,590,000.
Two hundred and thirty three million lives. This of course only factoring in the deaths from coronavirus. All too easily, the deaths from delayed medical treatment, from delayed ambulances, from exhausted physicians are written off.
One of the main kickbacks from my speaking in support of coronavirus restrictions is “what about deaths from the vaccine”.
This is understandable- but does not account for the fact that any deaths are sad, especially unnecessary ones like coronavirus deaths- or deaths from the vaccine, regardless of how low the risk. We should count these deaths as deaths due to the pandemic- because no coronavirus vaccine would be needed without the pandemic. Equally, look at the escalated rate of suicide due to isolation. This pandemic has a huge death toll, that extends it’s sinister reach far beyond the death brought by being infected and every single one of these deaths is a loss, a travesty and should not have happened. The way deaths have been manipulated for a political agenda is disgraceful. Ultimately and objectively, mass death is not a political decision- and the philosophical arguments can be bandied back and forth, but ultimately behind politics and philosophy are humans laid suffering from something that went from being an unprecedented worldwide event, to preventable for the most part, if people curtailed their contact.
The emergence of coronavirus allowed an unprecedented glimpse into the mindset of so many around us, people who openly distain others’ as long as they don’t feel controlled, coerced, don’t feel spoken down to, don’t feel like they have to make changes to accommodate others- forgetting of course that if others didn’t do it, they would also be at risk.
After two years, it’s openly a hostile move to walk into a shop- a place you have to go to buy food- without wearing a mask. Some see it as a laughable move which won’t prevent anything, some see it as a symbol of oppression and control from the state, others simply do not care and still more are a mix. There’s also a small subset of people who just like to annoy other people.
Those opposed to mask wearing, to social distancing, to lockdowns or any other measures declare that it’s their right to DO WHAT THEY WANT. They state that they shouldn’t be controlled, coerced, forced to do things they don’t want to do. But I have to wonder how often they follow that thought pattern to it’s apex of “for the common good”. Nobody that I know wants to wear masks, wants to get vaccines, wants to spend weeks alone. It was, I believe, seen by some as a civic duty or, more simply, the right thing to do. Was it? I believe so. Some are diametrically opposed.
When it comes to politics and more, it’s inevitable that disagreement will pop up. But the sheer volume of working class people cheerfully arguing that the economy can’t be allowed to fail if it means keeping people alive is terrifying – it’s the height of “it won’t happen to me”.
And of course it’s right and normal for humans to disagree on matters- but matters of mass death? It’s a strange world we’re forced to live in where people believe that their own, their loved ones- and strangers, who they don’t know- will die and that’s a worthwhile sacrifice.
It’s completely understandable that people are sick of living the lives we’ve had to under coronavirus- but it’s so often missed that people’s lives will continue this way until the virus has become endemic (we all knew from the start we’d never eradicate it). It’s the very people up in arms about masks and health measures who necessitate it’s continuance.
I read the story of an oncology doctor on Friday, who had to cancel a cancer patient’s operation because the bed they would have taken was now filled with an anti vax covid patient.
The covid patient would likely be moved to a ventilator soon, but the loss of that precious window for the cancer patient likely meant that they too would die. The cancer would grow, it would metastasise and just like that, another two people who didn’t have to die, but died, because of this virus- and because of the choices of an anti vaccine enthusiast.
Your choice to kill?
You see, there was a tipping point in the pandemic where your choices were miasmic and didn’t have the sway to hugely impact on the outcome. We were uninformed, we were all waiting for more research, more information. And now here we are- where your personal choices, from declining to wear a mask to refusing vaccines- are in a very real way, wreaking real life consequences upon people.
I’ve always levelled a deep and profound blame at a government simply unable to act decisively. Wishy washy guidance, hand wringing over following their own rules, duplicity- but now the onus truly has shifted to a split with those who wilfully will not comply building off the ignorance of the Conservatives.
It’s confusing that people are being given the choice to risk others’ health, all under this strange umbrella of bodily autonomy. Many of the people who support forced birth have appropriated their hated moniker, “my body, my choice”, for their crusade for the freedom they find difficulty in defining.
The co-opting of pregnant people’s rights
A pregnant person can, and should, be able to choose what happens with a pregnancy for many reasons, from whether they wished to get pregnant in the first place, financial and emotional readiness, health, safety and more. This isn’t a debate. A pregnancy can’t go on without a body to co-opt, but a body can go on without a pregnancy. Human beings are not incubators and pregnancy can have horrific consequences- from thinned bones, post partum depression and psychosis, scarring, bleeds… death. Every pregnancy constitutes a risk towards the pregnant person’s health. Their body will be, no matter how smooth a pregnancy goes, permanently changed simply by going through it.
And when it comes to being forced to take vaccines, this argument is, while controversial, more understandable. But that’s the essence of “my body, my choice”. You choose not to take a vaccine and you take on the risk to deal with consequences- societal (being excluded from mass events etc) or personal (dying or becoming disabled from long COVID). And of course, anti vaxxers will point at the death rate of vaccines- but again, this is bodily autonomy in action. Choosing to take the vaccine is you choosing to take that risk- negligible, but existing risk. Every person who died from the vaccine to my knowledge took that needle because they chose to, and accepted the risk.
The gleeful appropriation of “my body, my choice” is a misnomer. Pregnancy doesn’t spread via the air. Pregnancy only puts risk on the body of the person carrying it. You won’t spread mass pregnancy simply by being in a room while pregnant.
Outside of a pandemic the choice to make is whether to take a vaccine. Whether to take that risk, on the off-chance you come across the disease in question. During a pandemic, the choice is NOT to take the vaccine when there is a silent timer counting down to your exposure- and whilst it’s seen as bodily autonomy to make that choice, it’s not bodily autonomy- it’s bodily tyranny, because your mere presence in a room- especially if you’ve been wandering around with no mask, no social distancing, no vaccine- creates a risk, removing everyone around you’s bodily autonomy, their choice NOT to be sick. So now the question is- does one person’s bodily autonomy supersede that of the rights of everyone they could come into contact with?
People believe the merits of the anti vax movement- but isn’t it strange how the movement went from telling us that vaccines cause autism (neurodiversity by the way is a normal condition and function, though there are naturally extreme cases) to being silent, when 5 billion doses of vaccines were deployed over months. Suddenly the threat is “oh within two years you’ll be sorry”… about what?
Once some credible evidence comes to light we can discuss the nuance of whether vaccination vs non vaccination is worthwhile. Otherwise we continue to debate the efficacy of medicine that works vs rolling a lottery of disability, sickness and death.
Do I have to die for you to change your attitude?
Lets say coronavirus didn’t kill anyone but makes them sick like I was. Desperately poorly for weeks, exhausted, dizzy, sick, unable to eat, unable to sleep, in pain, headaches and more. I lost weight, I was light sensitive, my body ached. I still have a cough in December and I stopped actively suffering in mid October…
Is it worth running the risk of spreading that en masse? Even without death, mass sickness and disruption to peoples’ lives is a huge ask of everyone you may walk past in a day.
Society has not changed, no matter how much we can state it has. Change would be adaptation to the crisis at hand. What has changed are the circumstances in which people can easily advertise to you whether they care about those around them or think their own welfare comes first. No longer can we believe the myth that humans would try to collectively come together to protect each other- because all too many of us have joined the war on coronavirus on the wrong side.
The societal shift
One can’t necessarily pinpoint why society is how it is, and it appears that it’s a mistake to imply that we haven’t, at our core, always had this type of person in our society who will refer to those who make sacrifices for the collective “sheep”. But sheep do what they do out of fear, and out of instinct. I’m not overly scared of coronavirus, of isolation, of masks and vaccines- I’m scared of human beings who would rather lash out in violence than give simple proof that their claims of government takeovers, of poisoned vaccines, of masks causing health issues.
Until we can move past this virus as a collective, this battle will continue and the victims will continue to mount until common sense can stretch to both sides of the aisle. There will always be exceptions to those who can follow restrictions. But there will also always be those who spurn them. And the question continues to gather urgency – how long can society countenance the outliers when their actions, or lack thereof, endanger us all?