Freedom, Equality and Measles

This article was first published on LinkedIn on August 28, 2019. It has been viewed over 1,000 times.

In the coming weeks, the United States may lose its elimination status for measles. Thirty states had measles outbreaks in the last twelve months. Continuous recordings of measles cases, especially in New York, have caused the World Health Organization to re-evaluate America’s status as a measles-conquering nation.

I regret that any person, especially a child, has been afflicted with a preventable disease. I am upset that the power of “fake news” and social media has been strong enough to create a veritable cult of individuals – the “anti-vaxxers” – who believe that vaccines can cause harm. But I am most bothered by the fact that this act of individual choice represents an abandonment of civic responsibility.

The United States is one of the most diverse nations on the planet. In order to thrive as a powerful collective, we acknowledge our differences and we do our best to respect and accommodate them. This might mean that a Jewish child will be excused from school for Yom Kippur, even if the child’s school district doesn’t designate it as an official holiday. We’re careful not to serve beef, or pork, or glutenous products, out of respect for others’ dietary preferences. The Supreme Court gives exceptions to Christian organizations that don’t want to fund birth control pills for their employees. We call this liberty.

The role of liberty in our society has become increasingly complicated because it clashes with the notions of equality and inclusion. When we promote ideas self-expression and individual choice we are, ironically, impugning equality. Put another way, if everyone’s different, then we can’t all be equal. I’d like to know where the Founding Fathers stand on this observation.

Liberty is a great thing until expressing it negatively impacts someone else. This is the situation with the anti-vaxxers. Their personal choice not to vaccinate their children against measles has caused physical harm by enabling the spread of the disease. They’ve also created a community financial burden because the cost to treat the sick is shared across other members of society.

We need to think more about how freedom and equality intersect. We must realize that the choices we make for ourselves impact the behaviors and pocketbooks of our fellow Americans. Individualism is beautiful. But we will only be able to celebrate it if we make the sacrifices to find common ground so we can be stronger together.

To hear my thoughts about freedom and equality in health care, please listen to “The Contradiction of Freedom and Equality in Health Care” on The Powers Report Podcast.

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