Considering the conscientious objector’s dilemma – Winnipeg Free Press
IN his iconic novel Flight over a cuckoo’s nest, author Ken Kesey explored the question of who are the heroes of our time. Are they the majority that has power and control, or the minority that protests against the status quo?
Today, some 60 years later, we face the same problem, except now it is about how we treat the minority who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19. A recent letter to the editor of Winnipeg Free Press Summarized it this way: “I hope we can go the second mile to accommodate conscientious objection in workplaces and schools for people with genuine concerns” about vaccines.
Are people who refuse to be vaccinated conscientious objectors? Are we mistreating and abusing a group of people against the grain? These are interesting, important and relevant questions as we move forward in our fight against COVID-19.
Conscientious objection is the refusal to perform a legal obligation or responsibility on the basis of personal beliefs and, in particular, the right to refuse military service on the basis of freedom of thought, conscience or religion. Conscientious objection (OC) is enshrined in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It should be noted that Article 18 also imposes certain limits on these rights, specifying that their manifestation must not undermine public safety, order, health or good morals.
Traditionally, Canada has granted commander status to members of the Churches of Peace on the condition that these commanders assume a non-combatant role or provide civilian service to aid in the war effort. Indeed, wartime commanders traded their right to refuse to carry a military weapon that could kill someone for the responsibility of helping society through more peaceful efforts.
In contrast, an anti-vaccination “OC” demands the right to carry a virus that could and has killed people.
There is certainly a historically widespread consensus that CO status should not be easy to obtain. Countries that have authorized CO status usually have procedures and a process to determine the legitimacy and sincerity of the CO request. Switzerland, for example, asks applicants a number of questions, such as:
• Which entity gives you the certainty that your thinking and feelings are right?
• What would you do if you were attacked and injured?
• Would you go to jail to avoid military service?
It is interesting to transcribe these questions in the context of the CO anti-vaccination proposal. If candidates answered that COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous because a psychotherapist or small business owner told them so, would that answer have any credibility with a panel of experts? If they said that a maverick doctor announced that Bill Gates was going to infect these vaccines with fleas that could track their movements, would the panel be impressed?
If they got sick with COVID-19 and said they would seek and wait for the same treatment as other COVID-19 patients, would the panel be inclined to grant them CO status?
Panels that grant CO status seek out individuals who have “critical awareness” – that is, an awareness in which issues are seriously thought out, conceptually mature, and incompatible with selfish desires, whims or impulses. . They are looking for what it means to be faithful to one’s conscience in a pluralistic society.
Unfortunately, we have inherited what is called “a popular theory of consciousness”, where people confuse beliefs with knowledge. People may believe something is true, but that doesn’t mean it is, in fact, true.
We are living in difficult times. We need clear thinking, not the kind of muddled thinking that tries to legitimize the anti-vaccine narrative or romanticize anti-vaccines as the hero of a noble cause. We need clear policies that validate the idea that none of us are exempt from our obligations to others.
Mac Horsburgh lives in Winnipeg and is a patient advocate.