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OPINION: Individual Liberty is a Public Health Need

Andy Rutten

Written by Andy Rutten

It’s been a year and a half since the ‘novel’ Covid-19 came out of nowhere and bedeviled our nation and the world. The subsequent social response has been unprecedented, reminiscent of 9-11 taking our nation by surprise, leading to strict travel lockdowns and new policing methods never seen before. Then the political debate was as spirited as ever.

Our health establishment initially lacked a clear understanding of causation and treatment strategies for Covid-19. Remember the concern over limited hospital ventilators?  Turns out they weren’t the key in treating a disease more associated with hemodynamics and inflammatory response than lung function. A shortage of masks and other PPE occurred, and no vaccines were expected for at least a year. Many communities became locked down to ‘flatten the curve’ of infections to give hospitals time to prepare for an influx of contagious, seriously ill patients. Many accepted on faith the emergency and gave the benefit of doubt.

A lot has changed since then. We learned that Covid symptoms range from barely noticeable to serious, unusual compared with common cold and flu. Doctors have numerous treatment options developed based on individual patient needs. PPE has been produced in abundance and several prototype vaccines have been launched in record time.

Foremost in understanding causation is pre-existing medical conditions are strongly correlated with serious Covid illness, meaning the critically ill may suffer from two or more diseases. Of course this is common with a variety of diseases.  Many have wisely opted to improve habits such as diet and exercise to help reduce risk of serious symptoms.  Unfortunately Covid may be here to stay and is likely to keep evolving into new variants. I recall learning in high school biology that all organisms on earth, including humans and viruses, evolve and adapt to their environment. The more humans seek to evade Covid, the more it will need to counter-evolve to continue to spread. Even the CEO of Pfizer anticipates the possibility of vaccine-resistant variants developing.

Yet political debate remains as divided as ever.  Medical studies are published with limited data and diverging conclusions. Perhaps experts don’t even agree on common basic definitions. Mainstream, local and social media at times shift from investigative to an advocacy role, and institute one-sided publishing guidelines restricting even medical experts and elected leaders.  Gone are the days of ‘fair and balanced news’ or representing different ‘viewpoints’. 

Local, state and federal governments which include public health administrators and medical advisory panels are not aligned and even at odds. Government officials claim the authority of ‘science’ to push for dubious, hard to enforce mandates that can lead to additional problems. Unfortunately election year timing delays voter input. In the meantime many like myself no longer want to give benefit of the doubt nor accept ineffective and depressing sacrifices. I mean who wore masks before this epidemic?

I look around with my own eyes and those of my extended family. We don’t see a lot of evidence of a disease epidemic other than what we are told by people we don’t know.  In separate homes about 6 months apart, my teenage son and nephew both tested positive for Covid yet both had mild symptoms and didn’t spread it to other family members in the home.  Is my family just lucky? In the last year with two life-threatening non-covid-related diseases diagnosed and one cancer death due to a recalled FDA-approved heartburn medicine, I hardly consider my family to be lucky.

However we do see evidence of a Covid over-response problem based largely on risk-anxiety and slippery-slope concerns of public health risk. This is unfortunate. Covid is not the only problem people have to contend with.

  • What is the increase in non-covid health issues due to disruption of health care? My daughter recently received a belated critical diagnosis of blood-borne osteomyelitis, a bone bacteria infection, because her pediatricians may have been distracted giving three Covid tests in as many days even though her symptoms didn’t align with Covid.
  • How many people’s livelihood or social connections have been restricted? Children being unable to play at playgrounds or parks? Those in assisted living getting few if any visitors?  It’s worth noting the flu has always been a serious disease for older and at-risk individuals. 
  • How many students lost on learning, especially science, because of restrictions implemented without a clear understanding of science? School test scores from this past year were down sharply. With extra grant money provided to schools from outside the community, schools may feel a less urgent need to be responsive to the local community.

Healthcare is not science. It is a service between patient and medical provider to alleviate physical, mental, emotional suffering. Individual healthcare needs vary considerably. Modern medicine has incorporated some scientific elements, including amazing engineered technology, but it remains an imprecise human social function where getting a second opinion is routine.

Science is not healthcare. One definition of science might be documenting a methodical understanding of a repeatable natural event such that any person can replicate results.  This event can be predicted with theory or discovered initially by accident. Any teenager in a high school chemistry lab can reaffirm the boiling temperature of water. More complicated science requires more elaborate methods, with extremely complicated science becoming unmanageable without simplifying assumptions and statistical approximation. Healthcare is often very complicated. 

Healthcare is important. Disease is a natural if unwelcome part of life. What healthcare does is assist with maintaining good health, especially a strong immune system, as the primary defense against disease. Healthy habits are far better than gulping cough medicine while staying ‘on the go’. Perhaps this helps explain differences in individual health care needs.

People desire healthcare options to help allow for the ‘pursuit of happiness’. For Covid, an individual who is at-risk or suffers from risk-anxiety may prefer precautions like masks or social isolation. Mandates, whether public or private, for those not at-risk nor suffering from risk-anxiety are obtrusive and depressing; akin to mandating no precautions. Either scenario should be avoided where possible to avoid infringing on individual liberty and pushing citizens toward compliance-apathy and even civil disobedience. Mandate exemptions are time-tested, and should be readily accepted to avoid undue hardship.  What is a better example of real-time democracy? 

For many, getting back to normal may be the best plan to move forward and get past Covid. Those at-risk may still benefit from compassion, just like they have in past generations and other diseases. Mandating compliance towards any dubious or untimely requirement is unconscionable, and likely unconstitutional. Isn’t it ironic that disregarding individual sincerely-held beliefs to improve ‘health, safety and well-being’ contributes to anxiety and depression? It simply doesn’t make sense robbing Peter to pay Paul. 

Andy Rutten lives in St. Joseph County, Indiana.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. A MARVELOUS PIECE!! I’m sorry for your family diagnosis’s. Thanks wading into the cesspool of opinions with clarity and common sense!

  2. I applaud you, Andy. You are standing strong for the one ideal that has been most central to the prosperity and greatness of the United States and her people – individual liberty.

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