Protecting bodily autonomy

The overt promotion of discrimination against individuals for exercising their sovereign rights with respect to their health and the personal decision as to whether to consent to receive particular medical interventions has been of growing concern to me over the last 12 months. Additionally, in several countries around the world, the recent introduction of ubiquitous restrictive measures that excludes those who do not acquiesce to such interventions is wholly unethical. It is extremely disturbing that these illiberal measures—which are coercive, divisive, and effectively creating a health subclass—would even be entertained in free society and accepted by the wider public.

As a clinical psychotherapist, my values simply do not align with this mindset. I am opposed to the unethical practices of coercing others and to the loss of bodily autonomy1. By bodily autonomy, I am referring to the freedom to act upon choices which relate to the human body. I take a position that does not discriminate against individuals for the choices that they make.

People should not be subject to emotional blackmail (a form of psychological coercion) and shaming practices, especially by medical professionals and government officials. Crucially, it is a doctor’s duty of care to a patient to advise, explain and warn about a proposed intervention and its implications for a patient’s bodily integrity and health. Alarmingly, this crucial ethical practice is being undermined in lieu of practices that seek to promote an intervention that in many cases may not be in the best interests of the individual patient. Thus, it is imperative for individuals to make their own informed personal interpretation of the risks involved before agreeing to a medical intervention, for it is they who ultimately bears the consequences. It is precisely for this reason that informed consent and freedom of choice is absolutely sacrosanct.

Your body is your home. It is central to every aspect of your life, from being born, growing up, having children to becoming ill and dying. Hence, the choices a person makes about their body are not insignificant given the long-term consequences that are potentially involved in such decisions. Understandably then, the “principle of autonomy is an important foundational concept for the law of human rights, alongside principles of equality and dignity” (Wicks, 2016, p.6).

An intrinsic part of being human is the right to bodily integrity and autonomy—in other words, the right to take decisions about one’s own body. In Civil Liberties and Human Rights in England and Wales, David Feldman defines the right to bodily integrity as “a right to be free from physical interference”, and this “covers negative liberties: freedom from physical assaults, torture, medical or other experimentation, immunisation and compelled eugenic or social sterilization, and cruel or degrading treatment or punishment”2.

However, the universal acceptance of the principle of bodily autonomy is now being dangerously eroded through the coercive tactics that have been widely adopted to enforce a medical intervention that fosters discrimination and drives greater levels of segregation within society. It is such practices as these that are the greatest cause for concern, as history well demonstrates. Thus, I feel compelled at this point in time to openly state my position as someone who stands by their principles and values. I will not discriminate against someone and exclude them from society or treatment for exercising their right to bodily autonomy.

1 Wicks, E. (2016), The State and the Body: Legal Regulation of Bodily Autonomy, Bloomsbury Publishing

2 D. Feldman, Civil Liberties and Human Rights in England and Wales, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 2002), 241