Tag Archives: responsibility

Fluoridation: Freedom of choice – and responsibility

PN Tap

Alia Grant, 7, collecting “fluoride-free” water from the Papaoeia Park tap in Palmerston North. Credit: Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ

Apparently a source of “fluoride-free” water provided by the Palmerston North City Council since last May has seen little use. Despite the council providing the “fluoride-free” public tap at the request of campaigners, the data on its use shows an average of only about 4 people a day drawing water from it (see comments by Palmerston North City Councillor Aleisha Rutherford and email to her from council officials).

This data will interest other councils, like the Hamilton City Council, who are considering installation of similar “fluoride-free” taps. They might question whether such low use warrants the costs involve (more that $90,000  for Palmerston North and a budgeted $60,000 for Hamilton). But I am more interested in what this low usage implies for they way anti-fluoride campaigners have exerted their own freedom of choice.

Freedom of choice involves responsibility

I have always argued for freedom of choice on issues like community water fluoridation (CWF) where opinions are divided. I believe that freedom of choice is actually guaranteed by democratic processes.

Yes, I know, the minority sometimes complain that such democratic decisions remove their freedom of choice – and certainly anti-fluoride propagandists make much of this. Often claiming that the minority’s freedom of choice, in this case, is more important than the health of the community as a whole.

But that argument is disingenuous. Such choices are about the availability of a service or social health measure – not about having such services or health measures imposed on people. There is always a choice – and that is the great thing about democratic decisions. The community supports socially provided health care and secular education. But that in no way prevents the minority, who oppose such measures, the freedom to organise their own healthcare or education. Free secular education and healthcare is not imposed on anyone.

So, it seems obvious to me that someone who genuinely believes fluoridation is not OK should be responsible enough to take their own steps to either filter the water supply or arrange for a different source if they find themselves in the minority. I am not for a minute suggesting they give up their belief, or even their attempts to convince others. Just that they be responsible, accept the majority have spoken and that the majority decision should prevail – at least until there is a democratic change of mind.

Given the ready availability of alternative water sources or filtration devices, it would be silly not to take advantage of them. That is exactly what I would do if in that situation. But very few of my anti-fluoride discussion partners on this issue, when asked, acknowledge they take such steps. Instead, they will often complain about costs, even claiming these costs are prohibitive, and moan about having fluoridation “forced” on them.

Water filters a common

So the low usage of this “fluoride-free” tap indicates to me that people who seriously object to fluoridation of their water supply are already taking their own steps to remove it – most probably using a relatively cheap filter. And, I believe their use of such filters probably predates any public action they have taken on the issue. Similar filters are, after all, quite common and many people use them for aesthetic reasons to remove the taste of chlorine or organic matter.

So why do anti-fluoride activists make such a fuss – attempting to deny a democratically accepted social health measure to people who support it? After all, any personal claims of their own sensitivity to fluoride are surely invalid if they have exercised their freedom of choice and taken steps to filter their water or find another source.

The water consumption data for the “fluoride-free” tap in Palmerston North suggests that all but a very few (perhaps 4 people?) are responsibility taking their own steps to filter the water. This fuss, then, surely has nothing to do with their own situation. I can’t help thinking it derives from their own ideological and political beliefs about what society as a whole should do.

Perhaps these ideological and political beliefs, rather than any scientific fact, are the real source of their claim about the danger of community water fluoridation?

See also