COVID-19 mandates and lockdowns opened the door. Now, the medical establishment is redefining our most contentious political controversies as “public health emergencies” so as to circumvent public resistance and impose policies on society unobtainable through normal democratic means.
“Health” is not—nor should it be—the end-all of organized society. But don’t tell that to a British Medical Journal editorialist who declared that distinctly political issues such as Brexit, “excessive” corporate profits, and “a populist culture war” are actually public health concerns. Indeed, the editorialist’s explicit goal is to transform “health as the highest law, and the highest policy objective.”
This public health imperialism (if you will) seeks to refashion progressive political advocacy into hardened policies akin to noncontroversial actions such as ensuring that our water supply is sanitized properly. Indeed, based on the increasing advocacy in medical journals and among professional associations, usurping democratic engagement seems precisely the point.
In 2021, 230 of the world’s medical and bioethics journals published an unprecedented joint editorial urging the elevation of climate change to the very top of the world’s public health agenda. The scope of the powers the editorialists want officials to exercise toward that end would be close to unlimited.
“Governments must intervene to support the redesign of transport systems, cities, production and distribution of food, markets for financial investments, health systems, and much more,” the joint editorial thundered.
Along the same lines, an editorial published in The Lancet—the world’s oldest medical journal—argued that declaring climate change to be a public health agenda would serve as a “a powerful lever for action.”
Yes, we’re talking mandates. Nature—one of the world’s most prestigious science journals—also in 2021 published an advocacy column arguing that we each be assigned a “personal carbon allowance” (PCA) that would forcefully limit our individual emissions, to be enforced by requiring the downloading of apps onto our phones. The authors even want to implement AI algorithms to track our eating habits and other patterns of life: “AI could be especially beneficial for PCA designs that also include food- and consumption-related emissions … and can estimate food-related emissions on the basis of purchasing habits.” Two hamburgers per month pal, and then you are done!
The world’s most influential medical journals have also embraced critical race theory as an issue of public health. For example, an article in The Lancet argued that “racial consciousness” should become an “omnipresent factor influencing global health practice, research and outcomes.”
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)—which is as woke as The Lancet—similarly published an advocacy piece specifically calling for racial discrimination in medicine: “To promote equity,” author Neil K. Aggarwal, writes, “the Biden administration should distribute resources differentially in order to benefit groups that are persistently disadvantaged.”
The goal is also to expand the concept of “health” to include disparities of “mutually reinforcing systems in the housing, education, employment, economic, health care, and criminal-justice sectors.” In other words, the declared emergency would expand the reach of actual “health policy” into just about every sector of society.
A more recent column in the NEJM even called affirmative action a matter of “population health.” How so? “State bans on affirmative action were associated with large and persistent increases in adverse health-related behaviors (smoking and alcohol use) among Black, Hispanic, and American Indian and Alaska Native adolescents, including those whose college prospects wouldn’t have been directly affected by the policies.” So, affirmative action is actually societally administered health care. Who knew?
Of course, treating people in a discriminatory manner because of the color of their skin is profoundly wrong. Indeed, racism is evil—but it’s not “infectious,” nor is it a medically identifiable “disease” or “disorder.”
There’s also a strong move afoot to transform the political and constitutional controversies over gun policy into an issue of public health. Indeed, back in 2016, the American Medical Association declared gun violence to be a “public health crisis”
But isn’t gun violence the fault of the perpetrators? Not necessarily. Under a “public health” definition, it becomes an issue of victimization of the shooters. Thus, a professor at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine stated that gun violence is caused by “structural racism, classism, sexism, all these societal hierarchies that dictate who gets access to high-paying jobs, who gets access to college education, who gets to live in an environment that has safe houses and stable neighborhood opportunities.”
An article in the AMA Journal of Ethics has even called such violence an “infectious disease”—even though no germs or pathogens cause people to shoot each other.
But Wesley, shouldn’t we listen to medical experts about the important issues of the day? Of course—if they pertain to actual medical well-being. But when they’re broadly impacting public policy issues—as are climate change, race relations, and gun policy—medical professionals should be listened to as citizens, not based on their medical authority.
Besides, the real point of redefining political issues as public health concerns is to conjure “expert” justifications for political leaders to declare public health emergencies, and thereby rule by fiat—as happened during the COVID-19 epidemic. Indeed, that process may have already started. Recently, the governor of New Mexico declared gun violence to be a public health emergency in Albuquerque and issued an emergency order suspending the right to carry guns in public across Bernalillo County.
The governor’s action has been temporarily enjoined as violating the Second Amendment. But other consequential issues being rapidly mutated into urgent matters of public health wouldn’t face such an explicit legal impediment. If we value our freedom, we’d better push back against public health imperialism. Democracy dies in technocracy.