With all the sorrow of the thing: it is impossible to force the whole population to get vaccinated

The vaccination campaign has in recent days flooded a debate about the required balance between important values, such as a person’s right to autonomy over his body, and values ​​such as social solidarity and a society’s right to protect the peace and health of its members.

Vaccines for the entire population // Photo: Moshe Ben Simhon, Newsenders

Ethics tries to answer the question of what are the moral principles in light of which we must act, especially in situations where our actions can affect others. The leading moral principle in Western medicine is the autonomy of the individual, his right to realize his will and aspirations. There is no doubt that this principle is very important. We do not envisage a situation where a medical staff will impose a vaccine on anyone who is not interested.

At the same time, the autonomy and freedom of choice of the individual are not the only moral principles. Equally important, especially in the Corona period, are the values ​​of reciprocity, social responsibility and non-doing – one who can be vaccinated and chooses not to, violates the principle of not doing bad by endangering not only himself and his family, but also his environment.

If so, should we charge those who can get vaccinated? The Public Health Ordinance gives the Director General of the Ministry of Health the authority to require vaccination and even to prosecute those who refuse.

As a physician, I believe that anyone who chooses to serve the public, such as medical or teaching staff, has a moral obligation to be accountable to patients or students. It is not enough for a public servant to refrain from doing evil, he must also act for the benefit of the public – this is the principle of ethics of doing good.

A practical, though extreme, expression of this principle was seen in northern Italy at the beginning of the plague, when more than 100 medical staff risked their lives and died after treating patients without proper protective equipment. Of course we do not ask for this, but we also do not want to get infected with corona from someone who can get vaccinated and choose not to.

Forcing the entire population to get vaccinated is an impossible and unwise step, which may provoke antagonism and resistance and reduce the number of vaccinated. On the other hand, there is no reason to do good with those who choose not to get vaccinated, and there is no moral justification for not sharing with them the relief that will be given to the vaccinated with the gradual opening of the economy.

The discussion on finding the right balance between the individual’s right to vote and autonomy over his body and the values ​​of social solidarity and doing good, is important and forms an integral part of the principles of a democratic society. We hope that this discussion will lead to an increase in the rate of vaccinators, since in the end – we do not currently have another effective tool to fight Corona.

The author is a deputy director of Sheba Medical Center and a member of the Magen Israel advisory team.