Have you ever wondered why some public health efforts seem useless? How about something excessive?
Personally, I believe that most public health practitioners are extremely talented and qualified individuals. They do important work for the benefit of the wider society. The issue though is that some of these folks recommend policy and social interventions that are completely outlandish and impossible to implement.
Public health is riddled with fascist tendencies, despite the constant pleas for individual autonomy and the recognition of basic bioethics. One of the central tenets to public health is the protection of the individual’s right to make their own health decisions. From an academic setting, this discussion over individual autonomy is a concerning development given the propensity of higher education institutions teaching particular theories about health — including body surveillance, tracing, and the control of risky personal behaviors.
Health fascism is a conceptual term that describes the attempts to regulate the behavior of others, especially among those who smoke cigarettes, in the interest of improving personal and public health. Often, though, these practices and regulations are extremely authoritarian and could serve as an infringement of a human’s basic rights and liberties.
Smoking and vaping are topical examples of health fascism. While tobacco control is a mutually-agreed upon goal to improve international health, the efforts to limit the consumption of such products often carry hefty personal costs with it. In Australia, electronic cigarettes are tightly regulated and are technically prohibited across the nation. Recent changes in policy have shifted towards a less restrictive position through proposals to make electronic cigarettes available to users through the prescription of a doctor.
The move towards a more liberalized e-cigarette framework in Australia is certainly a positive sign. However, this still limits access to products for people who need it, including low income individuals who might not be able to afford medication and a primary care physician. Outside of that, the state-level disparities in policy additionally complicate access to vapes and still props up a fragmented regulatory system that treats nicotine users, vapers and smokers included, as second class citizens.
Outside of Australia, the same types of systems exist when regulating these products. While not as restrictive, the U.S. government and the state-level authorities in that country also create an outwardly damaging and, again, a fragmented system of regulation that places healthism over individualism. For instance, sin taxes — taxes levied on consumer goods that are unhealthy like alcohol, tobacco, and sugary foods — are favored by many public health practitioners as a viable, non-medical intervention to limit the consumption of certain substances. But, these taxes often levy unintended consequences on the consumers of such products and, indirectly, the consumers of the retail establishments that are forced to foot much of the initial costs of these taxes.
Of course, this is theoretical, but almost every sin tax implemented across the world is structured as a recessive tax levy that disproportionately affects the lowest-income families and individuals.
Further, the World Health Organization in a variety of scenarios — including obesity epidemics — has supported the implementation of taxes in an inequitable and a considerably fascist approach.
Amid the global pandemic of the novel COVID-19 coronavirus, this phenomenon of public health fascism is even more central in the debate over the justifications for country-wide lockdowns and the limitations of personal movement and activities during these trying times of exigency.
COVID-19 is an extremely lethal virus. It’s not a myth, and has claimed the lives of over 1.3 million people around the world. However, it’s important to note that the mere fact that COVID-19 is still a novelty that currently lacks a widely available vaccine and therapy still places negative prospects in the heads of lay people, politicians, and public health practitioners.
At least in the United States, the cases have exceeded 11 million since the beginning of the global pandemic earlier this year. The surge of these cases was expected, due to the fact that COVID-19 was widespread enough to add additional threats to the overall public health and, in my opinion, this virus is expected to be a recurring illness every year for the foreseeable future.
Public health policy requires a renewal of bioethical commitments to the benefit of society and the individual autonomy of people. Lessons from history and recent events, as described, offer answers that can easily evolve into implementation measures. However, there is no justification not to implement these lessons on a macro level. By no means should we disregard the importance of public health. Instead, we should continue to request that it evolves with the rest of society to involve individual liberty and rights.
Michael McGrady is a contributor to The Spectator Australia based in the United States. He is a visiting research fellow in harm reduction policy at the American Consumer Institute.
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