The Immorality of Vaccine Passports and the Demands of Nuremberg

I should confess at the outset that I am a professor who teaches research ethics. I have done so for more than a quarter century. I have organized and chaired human subjects review boards (or institutional review boards) as well as animal use and care committees. What is missing from the discussion about vaccine passports is an understanding of human freedom and medical ethics. I raise Nuremberg in these discussions because of the centrality of that body of international law in governing these affairs. They were developed specifically in response to a totalitarian situation. Vaccine passports contradict international law.

Polish witness J. Bzize shows the scars on her right leg, a result of the experiments of doctors Fritz Fischer and Herta Oberhauser in the Ravensbruck Nazi concentration camp, during their trial on Dec. 22, 1946.

The Code requires that any participants in medical experiments and procedures were willing participants, which means they volunteered to be involved. It is crucial in determining voluntary participation that no person consenting to an experiment does so from any coercive element in her surroundings. That is, the willing consenting participant could not be a person compelled to participate because of some adverse contingent force. Contingency means actions dependent on or conditioned by something else. This does not rule out rewards for those who participate in a medical experiment. The absence of a reward is not an adverse condition. But it does rule out any adverse consequence for failing to participate. 

For example, if I offer somebody $100 to participate in a medical experiment or submit to a procedure, they do not lose anything by not participating. But, if I take away their freedom if they don’t participate in a medical experiment or submit to a procedure, then they are losing something for refusing the participate or submit. Loss of freedom is an adverse consequence because humans under normal conditions require and desire freedom. This adverse consequence falls into the category of a punishment. However, there is another adverse consequence that falls into the category of negative reinforcement. 

For example, if I take away the freedom of people—let’s say I make it illegal for them to leave their home or to go without a mask over their face—and tell them that unless and until they participate in a medical experiment or submit to a medical procedure, i.e., receive an vaccine, they will not have returned to them their freedom to leave their home or go about without a mask, then I am coercing them to participate or submit. The consequence for failure to participate or submit is continued unfreedom, an adverse condition. 

Remember, the difference between punishment and negative reinforcement is not the presence or absence of an adverse stimulus. The adverse stimulus in present in both techniques. The difference is whether the adverse stimulus is applied for noncompliance, or whether it is removed for compliance. It is, in either case, coercive, which is why both are fundamentally different from positive reinforcement (or reward). To stop torturing a person who confesses is not to reward the person for his confession, but to coerce him into a confession by stopping the torture if hand when e complies. 

If you don’t understand this, then you don’t understand the first thing about freedom or medical ethics. (See also On the Ethics of Compulsory Vaccination; What’s the Big Deal With Wearing a Mask? Lots).

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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