We have to give some credit to dental surgeon Dr Joe Mullen. In an article in this paper (IMN, 5/1/05), he at least addresses the question of personal autonomy when it comes to enforced dosing of the population of Ireland with an unlicensed medication via their drinking water supply. This to me at any rate is the very nub of this most controversial of practises. But it is an aspect of the practise that is seldom addressed by fluoridation devotees. It is refreshing then to note that Dr Mullen is, in this context anyway, an exception and I applaud him for it.
Let me quote him. He writes: “The courts have consistently held that fluoridation is a very minor breach of personal autonomy.” Unfortunately, Dr Mullen gives us no references to support this statement. I presume he is talking about the Irish courts since, for the purposes of this discussion, Ireland is the most relevant. If that is the case, then first of all, to my knowledge, the Irish courts have consistently held no such thing in relation to fluoridation of our drinking water supplies here. There was only one case ever brought before the High Court here and that was the Ryan V Attorney General 1963. This single case was appealed to the Supreme Court in 1965. During neither of these hearings was there any reference whatsoever to “personal autonomy”. But let’s not nit pick. The principle of what he is on about remains the same.
In the Gladys Ryan V The Attorney General case (1963), Ms Ryan claimed that the so-called Health (Fluoridation of Water Supplies) Act 1960, if enacted, would deny her of a whole range of rights given to her under our Irish Constitution. Chief among these was her right to bodily integrity. This was the pivotal one and, as it turned out, the one on which the whole case was lost. This was the first case in Irish law where this constitutional right to bodily integrity was ever tested. The High Court judge on the day, Mr Justice Kenny, interpreted a right to bodily integrity as a right “not to have to undergo any mutilation of body or limb”. Or in other words the Judge of the day back in 1963 took the narrowest and most negative possible interpretation of a right to bodily integrity… not to be mutilated. Two years later in the Supreme Court this narrow analysis of the meaning of bodily integrity was upheld and Gladys Ryan lost her case.
But that was then and this is now. In the intervening years, things have moved on considerably. For example, in the right to die case in 1995, Supreme Court Justice Denham had this to say: “It is not pertinent whether the treatment is ordinary or extraordinary medical treatment. Consent of the adult with capacity is necessary for either ordinary or extraordinary medical treatment”. Fluoridated drinking water is, according to our own Irish Medicines Board, a medical treatment. It is designed to reduce the incidence of dental caries in children. It is a medical treatment for which I, an adult with capacity, have never given consent. The scope of a right to bodily integrity has gradually been extended over the years and has travelled a long way since merely meaning not to be mutilated. Judicial precedent has now extended it to mean a right not to have to have physical contact with anyone against your wishes. If our constitutional right to bodily integrity has now been extended to mean a right to not have to accept physical contact against one’s wishes, then surely the non-consensual incursion of a chemical into your body every time you visit your kitchen tap would equally, if not indeed more compellingly, qualify.
In other ways too, these are very different days to those of the mid-sixties when Gladys Ryan took her case. For example, we now have European Directives and a supporting European Court of Human Rights that might come to our aid in the event of one exhausting domestic remedies as they say. Also, it seems to me from reading this case and its appeal to the Supreme Court, that there was little appetite within the judiciary to face up to the Government of the day and reject their proposed Fluoridation Bill as being unconstitutional. Today it seems to me that the judiciary might be a little less concerned about Government sensitivities. Another important difference about today is that toothpaste is almost universally “fortified” with fluoride. This was a development of the 1970s and was not available at the time of the Ryan case. Today then, people can truly exercise free choice and autonomy in the matter of whether they or their children want to use fluoride or not.
Finally, there might be a case made for the “common good”. Judges may acknowledge that force-feeding the masses with an unlicensed medicinal product was unconstitutional but should be allowed because it was in the best interests of the population at large. The population at large do not benefit from enforced fluoridation. If any one benefits from this policy it is school-going children. If the Government is all that anxious to fluoridate people, then let them offer free fluoridated milk to all children of a school going age and leave the rest of us alone. Such a policy would be far more individually dose specific, would cost the taxpayers less, and would allow everyone to exercise a bit of free choice for a pleasant change.