Professor Kai Möller on mandatory vaccination

18 March 2022


In an article for the German newspaper Die Welt, Professor Kai Möller argues that a policy of mandatory vaccination against Covid-19 as currently debated by the German Bundestag is morally and constitutionally unjustifiable.

Professor Möller points out two possible motivations behind the policy. The first is to reduce the transmission of Covid next autumn and winter. In times of Omicron, however, it is empirically unclear how effective vaccinations – especially those had many months earlier – will be in the coming autumn and winter in terms of preventing the spread of the virus. As a severe interference with the human right to physical integrity, mandatory vaccination cannot be justified by reference to speculative and presumably marginal benefits. The second and more plausible motivation behind the proposed policy is to prevent people who catch the virus from falling severely ill. This, Professor Möller argues, is a noble goal; however, it can only be achieved by violating the principle of patient autonomy which entitles every person to decide autonomously about their medical treatment. 

To counter this objection, German politicians claim that the goal of the proposed policy is to protect the health services from being overburdened, and that accordingly, a policy of mandatory vaccination would not be paternalistic in motivation. Professor Möller rejects this argument as wrong. The goal of protecting the public health service from being overburdened can only be achieved by first ‘successfully’ treating people against their will so that they will not fall seriously ill when they catch Covid. Thus, ‘successfully’ treating people against their will is precisely what the proposed law intends - if it were otherwise, it could not achieve its overall goal of protecting the health service.

Under the logic of the proponents of mandatory vaccination, a country could also force people to take statins to lower their cholesterol levels or anticoagulants to prevent blood-clots, or to undergo mandatory screening for cancer and many other forms of medical intervention, as long as the argument could be made that such mandatory treatments would protect the health services from being overburdened at a later stage. This, Professor Möller argues, would be inconsistent with the principle of human dignity on which liberal democracies are based. He concludes that there is no morally or constitutionally legitimate way forward for the proponents of mandatory vaccination and that the Bundestag should abandon the bills under consideration.

Read the article in Die Welt here (paywall).