For the attention of all Labour MPs
I am very concerned about reports in the media over the weekend that shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth have written to the government calling for financial and criminal penalties for social media companies that fail to censor posts promoting ‘anti-vaccination content’.
I would like to know who the Labour Party believes should determine what kind of content qualifies as ‘anti-vaccination’, and what criteria would be used to identify such content. The threat of financial and criminal penalties may well induce social media companies to err on the side of expunging any criticism of the vaccine. Surely this could have very dangerous consequences?
Do you believe any of the following types of content should be censored?
If you believe any such content should be censored, can you explain why? If you believe it shouldn’t be censored, would you be confident that social media companies would not delete it anyway, in order to be sure of avoiding potential criminal or financial penalties?
The government response to COVID-19 has already resulted in the removal of our freedoms of association, movement and assembly. I am horrified that the Labour Party is now calling for restrictions on one of our most fundamental human rights, the freedom of expression. Public health considerations are no justification for placing limits on discussion and debate. The fact that the health of millions is at stake is a reason for greater scrutiny, not less.
There should be no sacred cows in health care. All medical interventions, including vaccines, carry risks, and it is vitally important that people are made fully aware of the risks, as well as the benefits, of this new vaccine. Is this possible in a climate where debate is closed down, dissent is muzzled and differences of opinion are silenced?
Ultimately, censorship of safety concerns relating to the new vaccine could potentially contravene not only our freedom of expression, but also that most basic of human rights, the right to bodily autonomy. With regard to medical procedures such as vaccination, there can be no bodily autonomy without fully informed consent. Censorship of frank and open public discussion of safety issues may mean that recipients of the vaccine base their consent on partial, inadequate information, in breach of Article Six of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights:
“Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information…” (my emphasis)
I hope that the Labour Party will reconsider and retract its exhortation to the government to impose yet more repressive restrictions on our fundamental freedoms.
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