ACT PRACTICE ESSAY (40 mins) public health and individual freedom

In today’s world, the question of individual freedom is often defined in opposition to individual rights. Many rights come from living in a democratic society maintained by a nation-state and its government, including the right to education, safety, and healthcare. These rights are typically enshrined in the law in service of a functional society. Therefore, the dichotomy between public health and individual freedom is a false one, as both freedom and healthcare are rights of any individual in a democracy. This argument expresses that freedom is an inherently limited category that can and should be tailored in service of the greater good. It also supports the notion that while individual freedom should be protected it should not come at a cost to other social freedoms, such as public health.

Perspective two argues that individual freedom is the most inalienable right afforded to those who live in democratic societies. However, this assumption is highly limited and does not acknowledge all the ways in which freedom is curbed for the greater good of society. An everyday example would be the use of the traffic lights. Traffic lights and other forms of road safety, including speed limits, drinking and driving laws, and regular road maintenance, serve a regulatory function to keep the public at large safe. Simply put, traffic lights ensure drivers, cyclists and pedestrians stop and go when necessary to prevent collision, as having complete ‘freedom’ on the road would lead to dangerous and fatal accidents. Traffic regulation infrastructure and other road safety measures outlined above serve to hold those who disobey them accountable, whether through fines or other means. It is unlikely that many would argue against the use of traffic lights because there is an inherent understanding in society of their function and necessity. This is just one example of many of the regulations we abide by in service of public good. It serves to illustrate that freedom is not an open-ended category, but rather is one that is limited and mitigated by the societies we live in. Therefore, it makes sense to argue that freedoms can be shaped in service of greater public good.

For instance, in the case of an epidemic or other national health crisis, people are encouraged by government health authorities to wear medical or cloth masks when going into public spaces. The aim of this is to keep the general public safe by limiting the spread of germs and pathogens. In this example, exercising one’s individual freedom would be to be able to opt in or out of wearing a mask. However, public health protocol indicates that exercising the freedom to opt out of wearing a mask endangers not only yourself but also others, including putting the more vulnerable such as the sick and elderly at greater risk. This compromises the public’s right to safety and health and can lead to greater rates of infection and fatality. Thus, it can be argued that individual freedom in this case should be limited in the interests of the right to public health, and can be enforced by making masks affordable and broadly accessible and the refusal to wear one punishable by law. As illustrated by the earlier traffic light example, many measures for public good are enforced by the law and critical matters of public health should be no exception. As it has already been established, freedom is a limited category, and therefore it makes sense to put measures in place that service the broader society and uphold the right to avoid health risks.

Perspective two suggests that imposing limitations on the public is a slippery slope, as governments may be able to put other, more unfair and restrictive measures in place if they are emboldened to do so. However, the other extreme, of having complete freedom does not seem so fair either, when we consider that without regulatory forces, societies would have unmanageable crime rates alongside other public crises. Therefore, the solution is to arrive at a middle ground that both the government and its citizens and residents uphold. This can be achieved by having an accountable and trustworthy government that people are generally willing to listen to. As claimed in perspective three, freedom is a right for all, and freedom can encompass many categories, including that of the right to good health. This includes not being endangered in public and having accessible healthcare options. Additionally, as it is suggested in perspective one, when it comes to public health, a trustworthy government should be able to enact measures in the interests of society that are self-regulated by those living in that society. This is not radically different to measures such as traffic regulations and should be supported as a means to keep society functioning to the best of its potential.

The argument outlined in this essay most greatly agrees with those of both perspective one and perspective three, as it acknowledges that societies ought to work towards the greater good and that health is also a freedom, respectively. However, it expands on the positions posited by demonstrating how individual freedoms are categories mitigated by society and governance and that if we can uphold certain behaviours, such as obeying traffic lights, for the greater good, then we can also uphold additional behaviours, including wearing face masks to keep others safe. Public health is one of many rights and freedoms we are all entitled to and it is in our interest to service these the best we can.

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