I think the “freedom of choice” argument is the most reasonable argument that anti-fluoride campaigners can use. Unfortunately for them, they usually only resort to it after their “science-based” arguments have been exposed as misleading or completely false. And even then, they usually present their “freedom of choice” argument in a naive and hostile way.
Have a look at this discussion from a local anti-fluoride Facebook page.
Here an opponent of community water fluoridation (CWF) has declared she doesn’t want fluoridation – fair enough. She has also declared that she doesn’t drink fluoridated water. Also fair enough.
I would say she has exerted her freedom of choice – she doesn’t drink fluoridated water so must have made other arrangements. And I am all for people exerting that right – even when they refuse to partake of a safe and effective social health policy.
But, in the next breath, she declares that she doesn’t have freedom of choice!
How does that work? It is as illogical as someone who votes on election day and then declares to everyone that they have been denied their right to vote!
Some campaigners are even worse – declaring that they are being forced to drink fluoridated tap water!
That brings up a picture of someone being held down and water being forced down their throats. But we know that does not happen. Worse – we also know that most of the people making this claim do not even drink unfiltered tap water. The serious anti-fluoride person almost always uses a system to remove fluoride from the tap water, or finds a different source of water to consume.
When New Zealand councils provide “fluoride-free” public taps they get very little use. This suggests that the anti-fluoride campaigners (who may have lobbied for the taps) have already made their alternative arrangements (see Fluoridation: Freedom of choice – and responsibility).
So, I just don’t buy this naive “freedom of choice” argument – especially when presented in such aggressive ways. The fact is that where most social policies are concerned they are not forced on people – there is usually a chance for objectors to avoid the policy or use alternatives. No one is forced to send their kids to secular schools or to use free hospitals. There are alternatives in such cases.
A community’s freedom of choice
Anti-fluoride campaigners should just stop using this argument at the personal level – it just discredits them. Where it does have validity is at the community level. Because it is a controversial issue there is usually some level of public consultation when health authorities recommend the introduction of fluoridation.
The public has a right to feel aggrieved when they are denied their freedom of choice if decisions to start or stop fluoridation are just imposed on them by officials. But that “freedom of choice” argument is an argument for democracy – not an argument for or against a social health policy.
The freedom to deny others their freedom of choice
Unfortunately, many anti-fluoride campaigners will still advance their personal “freedom of choice” arguments even when decisions have been made democratically by using referenda or some other method of polling voters opinions. It’s like a voter who supported a minority party in a general election claiming their rights are being violated by the party or parties with the most votes actually got elected!
So what “freedom of choice” are these die-hard anti-fluoride campaigners really thinking about?
If they have already exerted their own personal freedom of choice by use of tap filters or alternative water supplies, and they have been given a chance to express their views or take part in a democratic referendum, what freedom do they think they have lost.
I can only conclude the freedom that really concerns them is their perceived freedom to prevent others from taking advantage off a safe and effective social health policy.
And that attitude is hardly democratic.