Cause for coercion: cause for concern?

Monash Bioethics Review:1-9 (forthcoming)
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In his 2000 book, From Chaos to Coercion: Detention and the Control of Tuberculosis, Richard Coker makes a number of important observations and arguments regarding the use of coercive public health measures in response to infectious disease threats. In particular, Coker argues that we have a tendency to neglect public health threats and then demand immediate action, which can leave policymakers with fewer effective options and may require (or may be perceived as requiring) more aggressive, coercive measures to achieve public health goals. While Coker makes a convincing case as to why we should find it ethically problematic when governments find themselves in this position and resort to coercion, left outstanding is the question of whether this should preclude governments and health authorities from using coercion if and when they do find themselves in this position. In this paper, I argue that, while we should consider it ethically objectionable when governments resort to coercion because they have neglected a public health threat, its causes, and other possible responses to that threat, this should not then necessarily rule out the use of coercion in such circumstances; that there are ethically objectionable antecedents for why coercion is being considered should not necessarily or automatically cause us to think coercion in such cases cannot be justified. I address an objection to this argument and draw several conclusions about how governments’ use of coercion in public health should be evaluated.



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Maxwell Smith
University of Western Ontario

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Coercion.Alan Wertheimer - 1989 - Ethics 99 (3):642-644.
Necessity Historically Considered.Daniel Schwartz - 2020 - Journal of Moral Philosophy 17 (6):591-605.

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