An interesting letter appeared in the 12 December 2008 edition of the New Zealand Medical Journal, written by three staff members from the Otago University Department of Public Health. In it, they point out the archaic nature of the Public Health Act 1956, a law which compels travellers on buses, aircraft, trains and ferries to notify the driver, pilot, ship’s captain, etc., if they (the passenger) have any sexually transmitted or other communicable diseases.
Yes, you read that correctly. New Zealanders are currently required to provide the master of any state-owned vehicle or vessel in which they travel with up-to-date information on their currently active social diseases. And let’s not forget it is still an offence to return library books or post letters if they have been handled by a sick person, unless they have been properly disinfected.
The writers offer two possible solutions to the absurdities outlined above. First, that we carry an electronic swipe card containing information about one’s sexual health and medical history, thus providing bus drivers with hours of amusement; or secondly, that we replace the Health Act 1956 with new legislation which would do away with the need to disclose a list of one’s currently active contagious diseases to bus drivers, but which would allow collection of the same information in more sophisticated ways and would also reinforce the disparity in power between the government and the people. And wouldn’t you know it - such a law has already been drafted: the Public Health Bill.
Generally speaking, when the government gives with one hand, it takes with the other. What it usually takes is an important little piece of freedom which you don’t miss until it’s too late.
According to the writers, a new Public Health Act will allow New Zealand to “reach full compliance with the new International Health Regulations.” These new regulations, to quote an earlier article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, “expands the range of events which must be notified to WHO”, and “expands the range of surveillance sources that WHO can use.” In other words, once this law is passed details of your private health status can and will be transmitted internationally, with or without your consent.
If enacted, the Public Health Bill will replace not only the Public Health Act 1956 but also the Tuberculosis Act 1948, a draconian law under which New Zealanders can be imprisoned and drugged using physical force. But this proposed new Act will do nothing to curb these infringements on our civil liberties; instead it will broaden the front on which our privacy can be invaded. Not only will the government have the authority to forcibly treat people suspected of harbouring infectious disease, it will “expand health emergency provisions, which currently deal only with epidemics of communicable diseases, to all actual or potential public health emergencies irrespective of the cause.” This provides enormous scope for increasing government encroachment into people’s lives via the public health system.
Not only will the state be able to act where there is perceived danger to the “public good”; the Public Health Bill also includes “new guideline provisions aimed at reducing risks of non-communicable disease.” Which means the state will have greater power to intervene when a person has risk factors for conditions such as cancer and cardiovascular disease that cause significant morbidity and mortality. This will not be good news for fatties, smokers, people with high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes or hypertension, and people with unfavourable family medical histories. Such people will find their private lives under increasing scrutiny, and their health providers under financial pressure to improve the overall risk profiles of their customers.
A logical consequence of the flow of money within state-run health services is that doctors and other providers will withhold or distort information that might impact negatively upon their funding. Word surfaced a few years ago of a British doctor who declined to record a patient’s blood pressure in the clinical notes because it wasn’t within the target range for blood pressure set under National Health Service guidelines. To have recorded less than perfect data could have jeopardised the flow of taxpayer funds to that medical practice, and impacted on the income of the doctor’s colleagues.
An online summary of the proposed Public Health Bill notes that “reliable flows of information are fundamental to all health policy and action”, and that “information flows are necessary to support funding of services.” Apparently the exercise of authority (i.e. use of coercion) allowed under the Bill contravenes even the minimal protection offered by the Privacy Act 2003. Too bad.
Should this Bill become law, there will be a greater requirement for doctors and medical laboratories to notify the authorities when they encounter patients with certain medical conditions. The government, of course, dictates which medical conditions will be made notifiable. The Bill aims to “build on” provisions within the current Act to incarcerate and treat with or without consent, with no right of appeal, for indefinite periods of time, anyone with a ‘notifiable’ condition. Powers that can be exercised by Medical Officers of Health will range from requiring a person to refrain from employment or travel, to “detention or compulsory medical examination.”
Medical practitioners will be able, under the proposed Bill, to approach employers and demand information about an individual – so that people can be hunted down and forcibly treated. Doctors will be able to disclose confidential information about individuals to their families and sexual partners. (Why stop there? Why not release medical information into the public domain so that the undesirables can be weeded out rapidly and ‘cured’ of their afflictions more efficiently?)
The Bill will allow public health zealots to supervise the ongoing regulation of private business owners such as hairdressers, importers and manufacturers of microwave ovens, camping ground proprietors and funeral directors. During emergencies, Medical Officers of Health will have wide-ranging powers including the ability to lock people up in quarantine, close down businesses, “requisition things” (i.e. seize private property) and redirect aircraft. The emergencies in question might have arisen in another country but that is immaterial. It’s all about the exercise of unlimited power - something for which statists live, and of which they dream.
Totalitarian medicine, as outlined in the Public Health Bill, was practiced by the Axis powers during the Second World War, in the post-war Soviet Union, and in a smattering of dictatorships at various times since then. It is a particularly invasive violation of personal freedom. At least two of the writers who propose the Public Health Bill as an answer to the antiquated Health Act 1956 - Nick Wilson and Michael Baker – are longstanding health bureaucrats. Wilson is a leading nico-Nazi. These guys will be right in their element, as the Bill is characterized by sweeping government powers of arrest, detention and compulsory treatment, at the expense of individual liberty.
As Benjamin Franklin is alleged to have said, those who would give up essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither. It is the government’s job to protect and defend our rights, not trample all over them. I am confident that the private sector, in a free market economy, could successfully co-ordinate the containment of infectious disease in New Zealand. But it will probably never be given a chance. The proposed Public Health Bill aims to entrench and expand the footprint of Big Government in the health industry. The Key administration will no doubt pass this Bill into law without thinking through the dangers inherent in putting so much power in the hands of so few. That’s because, despite what they say, conservatives don’t place a high priority on human freedom. Like their leftist counterparts they just love the trappings of power and bossing people around.
The obvious way to avoid having to disclose your medical history to a bus driver would be to privatise both the transport industry and medical services and allow open competition between providers. No bus company that wanted to remain solvent would dare to demand sensitive personal information from its passengers and then pass it onto a third party. Alas, privatisation of the health industry won’t be happening any time soon. The grand plan by New Zealand’s two major political parties, loyally supported by the health ministry, academics such as Wilson and Baker, and other statist scum, is to fully ‘socialise’ all aspects of health care (i.e. drive private players out of the market and then force them to pay for a state monopoly), thus ensuring a drop in quality of the service and creating price distortions that tend to make the product more expensive in the long run.
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