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Opinion >  Column

Sue Lani Madsen: Healthy boundaries

The Boston Tea Party was not about tea. It was a political protest against perceived overreach by an out-of-touch monarch into the affairs of individuals without their consent. A small group decided they had been pushed one step too far and tangibly registered their objections by brewing a shipload’s worth of tea in Boston Harbor.

Likewise the pushback on COVID-driven mandates is not primarily about mRNA vaccines. It’s a Boston Tea Party moment when an overbearing executive branch of government has pushed a significant number of public employees and health care professionals one step too far.

This column is not going to attempt to state the evidence for or against any individual vaccination decision. There are clearly benefits to the community and risks to individuals, as there are in so many individual choices. My personal choice was to seek out mRNA vaccination, a decision made after careful consideration. While I am happy to provide information, I will not attempt to shame or argue others into making the same choice. And I don’t want the government threatening public servants and health care workers on my behalf with loss of livelihood and profession if they don’t allow that most personal of boundaries, their skin, to be penetrated by government edict.

The right to bodily privacy “discovered” in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision surely applies. As I’ve made clear in columns on the pro-abortion versus pro-life debate, I don’t want to see abortion prohibited by legislation but to apply the same right to bodily privacy to both the unborn child and the mother. That’s an issue on which I draw a line, recognizing it means dealing with ethically fraught conflict between the interests of the unborn child and his or her mother while respecting the autonomy of both.

We empower legislators to debate and pass laws within constitutional boundaries which may require or restrict actions by individuals in the name of community good. Driving on the right side of the road. Using your headlights after dark. Prohibiting drinking and driving. Mandatory motorcycle helmets, in some states – but not others, where communities have judged individual freedom outweighs community benefit or pressure from insurance companies.

Some decisions we leave to individuals in the name of freedom. The greatest quantity of negative emails I have ever received following a column was triggered by suggesting bicyclists should wear something reflective at night to better avoid collisions with cars. You would’ve thought I was mandating a scarlet letter “S” for smug. I’d apparently crossed a boundary with a Sons of Liberty subset of commuting cyclists.

Individuals are free to choose many risky behaviors having community consequences. According to the CDC as reported by CNBC news, nearly 80% of those “who have been hospitalized, needed a ventilator or died from Covid 19 have been overweight or obese … over 42% of the U.S. population was considered obese in 2018.” Not merely overweight with a body mass index of 25 to 30, but obese with a BMI of more than 30.

The well-researched route to drastically reduce the severity of illness due to COVID and avoid overtaxing hospital systems would be to reduce all Americans’ BMI to less than 30. Instead of wagging fingers at strangers for not wearing masks, civic busybodies could eye the line at the bakery and say “sorry ma’am, no doughnuts for you.”

Since we’re still calling it an emergency, we could resurrect World War II-era food ration cards. And company picnics would sure be fun, with HR enforcers insisting “put down that second hamburger or you’re fired.” Bonus benefits would include reduced strain on our health care system due to other obesity-related health impacts, making the community healthier as a whole and increasing our community resilience to new virus variants.

Obesity is linked to poverty and lack of access to healthy foods, an equity issue. Instead of issuing EBT cards to people living in urban and rural food deserts, sign folks up for meal prep kit subscriptions providing healthy foods and an appropriate number of calories each day, with a one-size-fits-all menu dictated by experts.

Would any of those mandates cross your boundary? Or do individuals have the right and the responsibility to decide what goes into their bodies based on all of the available evidence, their sincerely held beliefs and their individual health concerns?

Requirements to be fully vaccinated for SARS CoV-2 by October 18 or be terminated from their jobs pits the interests of individuals in determining their personal risk against the interest of the community in mitigating overall risk. “King” Inslee has been operating under executive edict in a state of emergency for 18 months, unchecked by the Legislature. Instead of meeting in a Boston tavern, over 17,600 people are meeting on a Facebook group called “Washington State citizens against the MRNA injection mandate” and reassuring each other they are not alone in rejecting forced vaccination even if it means losing their jobs.

Where do you draw the line? What government mandate would be a step too far for you?

Contact Sue Lani Madsen at

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