by Sarah Terzo
The argument “My body, my choice” has long been used to support abortion. More recently, it’s been used by those who oppose vaccines and vaccine mandates. In one case, it’s used to claim the right to refuse to use one’s body to support a baby. In the other, it’s used to claim the right not to inject a vaccine into one’s body. In each case, though, the argument is for bodily autonomy.
Both arguments share the same flaw. We do have particular freedoms. In the United States, our Constitution guarantees it, and ethics demands it. But our rights end when our choices hurt others. When our freedom interferes with another person’s right to life and their safety and well-being, our freedom must be limited.
A human being’s right to life is more important than another person’s bodily autonomy. This is clear in the case of abortion. A woman does have the right to control her body. She should be allowed to make her own choices. But when she becomes pregnant, another person’s body is involved. If she has an abortion, it won’t just affect her body, but also the body of the child inside of her.
We have long known that a preborn baby’s heart is beating at three weeks after conception. One study found that a baby’s heart may start beating even earlier, at just 16 days. At six weeks, she has a brain that is giving off brainwaves. At just under seven weeks, she responds to touch.
And by eight weeks, still within the time most abortions are committed, she can have the hiccups. She is already right or left-handed.5 If she is a girl, she has ovaries of her own. Even at ten weeks, the baby has unique fingerprints. They are different from those of anyone who’s ever lived or ever will live. She can also suck her thumb.
She is a unique individual who has never existed before and will never exist again.
But the baby’s life begins even before this. His or her life began at conception, the moment the sperm cell from the father combined with the egg cell from the mother to create a new, unique individual. This is not a religious or philosophical claim. It’s a scientific one. Science teaches that life begins at conception. For example, there is this passage from embryologist Keith L. Moore’s medical textbook The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology:
Human life begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual…A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo).
An article in Live Action News presents 39 other quotes from scientists, medical journals, and medical textbooks.
A woman certainly has a right to control her body. She has a right to decide when, whether, and with whom to have sex. She has a right to decide whether to use birth control. She has a right to decide what foods she wants to eat, where she wants to work, what clothes she wants to wear, and where she wants to live. But she doesn’t have the right to decide to have an abortion, because that means the death of another person.
While abortion directly leads to the death of another human person, refusing vaccination can also lead to the death of other people. In 2020, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in the United States. COVID-19 killed more people than suicide, stroke, other infectious diseases, accidents of all kinds, homicide, or diabetes. Only cancer and heart disease took more lives.
On top of the many deaths, many more people have been left with long-term health problems, which may lead to permanent disabilities. Furthermore, risk of death is much greater for unvaccinated people. In a singular example, one unvaccinated California couple died and left five children behind. They didn’t even get a chance to name their youngest child.
If you spread COVID-19 to another person, it has the potential to kill them. Every time you leave your home and come into contact with other people, you increase your chances of either contracting or spreading COVID-19.
The most vulnerable to the virus are also the most vulnerable to other threats in our society – among them the elderly, disabled, and chronically ill. This includes the immunocompromised, many of whom don’t get as much protection from vaccines.
The pro-life movement defends the lives of these vulnerable people when they are threatened by euthanasia or assisted suicide. But COVID-19 also puts them at risk. A person who has died of COVID-19 is just as dead as one who dies from euthanasia or assisted suicide. Pro-lifers must oppose all threats to the lives of these vulnerable people.
And we encounter these vulnerable people daily: when you walk around the grocery store, visit a restaurant, or go for a walk in the park, you have no idea if anyone around you is immunocompromised or chronically ill.
There is a simple thing you can do to prevent yourself from infecting other people with a potentially fatal disease – get vaccinated. According to a recent study, an unvaccinated person is far more likely to infect someone with COVID-19 than a vaccinated one. An unvaccinated person is also 10 times more likely to contract the virus. And if they do become sick with COVID-19, they are contagious for a longer period of time, meaning they have more of a chance to spread the virus to others. When infected, those same individuals are twice as likely to spread the virus. In fact, you are 20 times more likely to contract COVID-19 from an unvaccinated person than from one who is vaccinated. An elderly or immunocompromised person is 20 times more likely to get COVID-19 from you if you are unvaccinated.
So, if you refuse to get vaccinated, you are 20 times more likely to be responsible for another person’s death by spreading COVID-19 to them. For example, an unvaccinated teacher infected half her students, and 26 in her school total, with the virus. The article about the incident didn't say how many people, if any, died as a result.
But being unvaccinated is not the only way you can potentially be responsible for someone else’s death. Studies show that more than 90% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated, and hospitals are overrun with these unvaccinated patients. The result is that people with other serious medical problems can’t get care.
One man paid the ultimate price for people’s refusal to vaccinate. His name was Daniel Wilkinson and he lived in Bellville, Texas. Wilkinson was a U.S. Army veteran. He went to the ER with abdominal pain and other symptoms. The doctor who treated him, Dr. Hasan Kaklit, ran tests and discovered that Wilkinson had gallstone pancreatitis, which is a fatal condition if left untreated. However, it is easily treatable.
Yet Wilkinson needed surgery. It was routine surgery that would only take 30 minutes to perform, but the Bellville hospital wasn’t equipped to do the surgery. Wilkinson needed to be transferred to another hospital.
And that was the problem.
All the hospitals for miles around were full of unvaccinated COVID-19 patients. Dr. Kaklit recalled, “I do labs on him, I get labs, and the labs come back, and I'm at the computer, and I have one of those 'Oh, crap' moments.” He described Wilkinson’s condition, saying “that fluid just builds up, backs up into the liver, backs up into the pancreas, and starts to shut down those organs. His bloodwork even showed that his kidneys were shutting down.”
According to Kakli, Wilkinson was “dying right in front of him.” Wilkinson needed medical care, and he needed it right away. So Kakli called multiple hospitals. There were many in the area that had specialists qualified to do the procedure. But none of them had any ICU beds available. Meanwhile, Wilkinson was dying, and dying in agony.
I had that thought in my head: “I need to get his mother here right now.” I said, “If he doesn't get this procedure done, he is going to die.”
I also had to have the discussion with him. ''’Dan,' I said, 'if your heart stops in front of me right here, what do you want me to do? Do you want me to do everything we can to resuscitate you and try and get your heart back? If that were to happen, Dan, if I were to get you back, we're still in that position we're in right now.’
He said, 'I want to talk to my mom about that.’”
Imagine having this conversation with your doctor. Imagine sitting there, in pain, knowing you are dying, and knowing that you could be cured, but that there is no way to get the care you need.
Imagine being asked whether the doctor should try to keep you alive when you are probably going to die even if he brings you back. Try to imagine you, or a loved one, going through that.
Kakli got so desperate that he put a status up on Facebook begging some hospital, somewhere, to take Wilkinson. It was in vain. Wilkinson sat in the ER with his mother by his side, slowly dying, in great pain. His mother was helpless to do anything but watch him die and try to comfort him. Finally, seven hours later, a bed opened up and Wilkinson was transferred.
Unfortunately, it was too late.
He was airlifted to Houston, but according to his mother:
They weren't able to do the procedure on him because it had been too long. [They] told me that they had seen air pockets in his intestines, which means that they were already starting to die off.
All they could do was let him die.
It took 17 hours. Seventeen hours of suffering. Seventeen hours while his mother stood by helplessly. Seventeen hours while both of them knew it didn’t have to happen. Roughly 24 hours after he walked into the emergency room, Daniel Wilkinson died at the age of 46.
I've never lost a patient from this diagnosis, ever.
We know what needs to be done and we know how to treat it, and we get them to where they need to go. I'm scared that the next patient that I see is someone that I can't get to where they need to get to go.
We are playing musical chairs, with 100 people and 10 chairs . . . When the music stops, what happens? People from all over the world come to Houston to get medical care and, right now, Houston can't take care of patients from the next town over. That's the reality.
Wilkinson died needlessly, slowly, and in physical and emotional torment. He died as a direct result of the hospitals being full, which was a direct result of people choosing not to vaccinate. And he’s not the only one. Similar things are happening all over the country. Ray Martin DeMonia is another victim. He lived in Cullman, Alabama, and was 73 years old. In September, he suffered a heart attack. The ambulance got to him in time, but the nearest hospital with a bed was 200 miles away.
He never made it that far.
DeMonia was a man with a family who loved him. He spent 40 years in the antique business. He, too, died because hospitals were full of COVID-19 patients who chose not to get vaccinated. In DeMonia’s obituary, his family urged people to get vaccinated:
In honor of Ray, please get vaccinated if you have not, in an effort to free up resources for non-COVID-related emergencies. He would not want any other family to go through what his did.
A man is dead and a family is grieving because of the choices of other people. That’s what “my body, my choice” in the vaccine debate leads to.
Another victim was only 12 years old. Florida native Nathaniel Osborn and his wife took their son Seth to the emergency room. He was suffering from very severe abdominal pain. The waiting room was so crowded there weren’t chairs for the family to sit in. They waited in the ER as Seth’s condition worsened:
Hours passed and 12-year-old Seth’s condition worsened, his body quivering from the pain shooting across his lower belly. Osborn said his wife asked why it was taking so long to be seen. A nurse rolled her eyes and muttered, “COVID.”
Seth was finally diagnosed with appendicitis more than six hours later. By the time doctors finally examined Seth, his appendix had burst. His life was in extreme danger. Doctors operated immediately, struggling to save his life. Fortunately, Seth survived. But his medical ordeal and his suffering (as well as his family’s suffering) were far worse than they might have been.
A typical hospital stay for appendicitis is 24 hours. Due to complications of the burst appendix, Seth’s time in the hospital was five days and four nights. He was pumped full of intravenous antibiotics to stave off infection from the rupture. He suffered far more physical pain, and his parents more emotional pain, than he would’ve otherwise. His parents also ended up with a $48,000 hospital bill, only some of which was paid by insurance. Had Seth received prompt medical care, his appendix probably wouldn’t have ruptured. He suffered a potentially fatal complication because the emergency room was so crowded.
According to an article about Seth’s situation:
Some health officials now worry about looming ethical decisions. Last week, Idaho activated a “crisis standard of care,” which one official described as a “last resort.” It allows overwhelmed hospitals to ration care, including “in rare cases, ventilator (breathing machines) or intensive care unit (ICU) beds may need to be used for those who are most likely to survive, while patients who are not likely to survive may not be able to receive one,” the state’s website said.
Hospitals are rationing care, and the disabled and elderly will likely be the first to be denied medical treatment. If it weren’t for unvaccinated COVID-19 patients, this rationing wouldn’t be necessary.
An 11-month-old girl with the virus also had her life threatened by hospital overcrowding. Little Ava Amira Rivera was infected with COVID-19. While the virus usually isn’t fatal in infants, Rivera became deathly ill. She was one of the unlucky ones.
Her mother Estefani Lopez took Ava to the emergency room when she began suffering from seizures. Ava was also having difficulty breathing.
Lopez took Ava to Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in northeast Houston where she tested positive for COVID-19. According to Patricia Darnauer, the hospital’s administrator, “She needed to be intubated immediately. We looked at all five major pediatric hospital groups [in the city] and none [had beds] available.”
Little Ava had to be airlifted 150 miles.
Lopez was haunted by almost losing her child. She said, “It hurts. I wouldn’t want this pain on no other mother.” According to Baylor Scott & White McLane Children’s Medical Center chief medical officer, Dominic Lucia, “It’s a complex picture, but what it adds up to is we have too many patients and not enough beds.” Ava and her family were very lucky. The next family may not be.
As with abortion, refusal to vaccinate costs lives; not just the lives of the people who refuse to get vaccinated themselves, but other lives as well. The argument “my body, my choice” doesn’t apply in either of these cases. It doesn’t apply when our choices cause other people to die.
Just one more note. I’m aware that some pro-lifers believe it is their religious duty to refuse COVID vaccines because fetal cell lines were used in the vaccine’s development. However, they should be aware that many everyday medicines are also tested or developed using fetal cell lines. Medications that were tested or developed using fetal cell lines include acetaminophen, albuterol, aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Lipitor, Senokot, Motrin, Maalox, Ex-Lax, Benadryl, Sudafed, Preparation H, Claritin, Prilosec, and Zoloft. If you have ever taken one of these medications, even once, you have taken a medicine that was developed with the use of fetal cell lines. To be consistent, you would have to avoid these medicines for the rest of your life, as well as thousands more.
As an atheist, I don’t understand why your god would want you to refuse a vaccine for COVID-19, making a choice that could end your life and the lives of others, but be perfectly okay with you taking medicine involving a similar ethical issue in its development to cure your headache, treat your allergies, or relieve your heartburn. I don’t understand that god.
Please oppose abortion, and please get vaccinated. Human life is precious. Don’t kill people or let them die.