President Biden has announced that there will be a door-to-door campaign designed to inform people in less-vaccinated sections of the country to encourage getting the shots and to address concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. Many Republican, conservatives and civil libertarians fell the plan is an abuse of power. “How about don’t knock on my door. You’re not my parents. You’re the government. Make the vaccine available, and let people be free to choose. Why is that concept so hard for the left?” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) tweeted. “The government now wants to go door-to-door to convince you to get an ‘optional’ vaccine,” Rep. Lauren Boebert, (R-Colo)., snarked. Some reactions were a bit more hysterical, such as this from GOP Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene:
“Biden pushing a vaccine that is NOT FDA approved shows covid is a political tool used to control people. People have a choice, they don’t need your medical brown shirts showing up at their door ordering vaccinations. You can’t force people to be part of the human experiment.”
But you know…Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Is a representative of the Federal Government coming to your home to try to get you to do something you have chosen not to do or may not want to do an abuse of power? It might be. I have ruled it unethical for uniformed police officers to come to homes seeking contributions to police charities, and indeed this practice has largely been stopped because it was viewed as inherently coercive. A government representative coming to your home to urge you to do anything, from paying taxes to brushing your teeth, may be stressful and feel like the heavy hand of Big Brothers. Moreover, such a visit strongly suggests “We are watching you!”
My guess is that the national public health goal of having as many Americans vaccinated as possible would be seen by most courts as a sufficient justification for this minimal incursion on public privacy, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see one or more court rule that the government has no business coming to you home to metaphorically twist your arm.
The Ethics Alarms verdict is that door-to-door visits are ethically defensible if…
- Each home targeted for such a visits gets advance notice of at least 72 hours, and an opportunity to opt out.
- The government representative begins every visit by handing out a document and reciting it’s contents, which should be something like a Miranda Warning:
Hello, my name is XXXXXXXXXXXXXX, and I am representing the Federal Government in a national effort to encourage the public to be fully vaccinated against the Wuhan virus. You have no obligation to listen to me, invite me into your home, take or read the materials I have for you or to get vaccinated. If you prefer, I will leave immediately. However, I would be grateful if you would allow me to explain why it is important for you and members of your family to get vaccinated, and to answer any questions you might have. If you decline this visit, there will be no penalties or consequences, nor will your decision be noted on any government records.
Update: Upon thinking some more about this, I would want to see this added:
“Furthermore. no benefits or advantages will accrue to any of your neighbors who do not decline to speak with me, allow me into their homes, or accept my materials.”
Absent such warning, any visit by a government employee (or volunteer) is potentially coercive and an abuse of government power.