The right to life and protecting others’ lives

The right to life and protecting others’ lives

It’s my life and I will do what I want with it. I am the decider of my own life and I shall lead as I wish and as my conscience dictates. I am free to destroy it by taking drugs or other harmful substances. I even have the right to kill myself. As master of my life and health, I have the right to deny treatment which I do not approve of and refuse any interference with my physical and mental integrity such as blood transfusions, vaccinations, surgery and so on that does not have my prior consent.

These are more or less the allegedly constitutional arguments that Covid-19 vaccine deniers would put forward if they had some knowledge of constitutional law.

The truth is that trumpeting the Constitution over the issue of vaccination is mostly a pretext. The skeptics are, in fact, driven by different motives: conscientious, social, psychological or anthropological. It is therefore pointless, I think, to try to change the skeptics’ minds with logical or legal arguments. For these people will not be convinced against their will, as they say.

If they really were open to persuasion and to the opinion of experts, to science, to common sense, to the case law of the Council of State, the European Court of Human Rights, and the state courts of other European countries, then they would realize that their invoking the Constitution is totally inadequate and wrong.

The Constitution and international treaties indeed recognize that everyone has the right to life. At the same time, however, they enable the state to lawfully restrict certain freedoms in cases where exercising these freedoms intrudes upon other people’s rights, such as the right to life and health. The Constitution stipulates that life must be protected not only as a right but also as an ultimate collective good; as a value (Article 5, paragraphs 2 and 5; and Article 1, Paragraph 2). The state must care for the health of its citizens and their social security (Article 21, Paragraph 3).

The state is therefore entitled to restrict or compromise by law a right, such as the right to physical and mental integrity, when the infringement – in this case the compulsory vaccination of vaccine resisters – is deemed necessary to protect the right to life of others or of society at large.

Certain constitutional pundits have come out in support of vaccine deniers, claiming that the recent government measure is unconstitutional; not because it is mandatory but rather because it imposes a monthly 100-euro fine on those who refuse to get the jab. The fine, they say, affects low-income workers and retirees living on a monthly 450-euro pension, as well as the poor. As a result, the theory goes, it challenges the principle of equality as it sanctions equal treatment of basically economically and socially unequal groups.

Certainly the fine affects the living standards of certain people. However, it does not do so in a manner that is unjustified, excessive or disproportionate considering the legitimate objective of immunity, of the urgent need to save thousands of human lives and protect the health of thousands more. In fact, it seems to be the mildest measure that could have possibly been introduced and certainly is milder than similar measures imposed in other European countries.

Finally, this measure was imposed after all other efforts to convince the public had been exhausted. The effectiveness of optional vaccination and persuasion – a campaign that was carried out consistently and, in some cases, excessively – has run out. The only available solution left was that of mild coercion.

After all, those who cannot or do not want to pay the fine can receive the vaccine without suffering any damage to their honor or dignity for changing their mind. Doing so would save their own soul as well as the life and health of other people.

Antonis Manitakis is professor emeritus at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and president of the Scientific Committee of the School of Law of the University of Nicosia.

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