Biography/Disclosures
Biography:

Edmonds is a senior medical advisor and chief eye care officer at United Healthcare, co-director of the Low Vision/Contact Lens Service at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and a member of the PCON Editorial Board.

Disclosures: Edmonds reports he is a consultant to March Vision.
August 03, 2020
4 min read
Save

BLOG: Masks, guns and public health

Biography/Disclosures
Biography:

Edmonds is a senior medical advisor and chief eye care officer at United Healthcare, co-director of the Low Vision/Contact Lens Service at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and a member of the PCON Editorial Board.

Disclosures: Edmonds reports he is a consultant to March Vision.
You've successfully added to your alerts. You will receive an email when new content is published.

Click Here to Manage Email Alerts

We were unable to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this issue please contact customerservice@slackinc.com.

America is the land of the free and home of the brave.

But the meaning of freedom has changed since 1776, when we first declared it, or since 1814 when Francis Scott Key penned this phrase, or certainly by 1916 when President Wilson made this phrase part of our national anthem.

Freedom is a relative term, and the right to exercise personal freedoms must change as a society grows and matures. In an organized society, the freedom of one individual is limited by freedom of the next individual in the society. The more complex and interwoven the society, the more there must be restrictions to personal freedoms.

Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, once wrote, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility.” Her words are more relevant today than in the 1950s when she wrote them. Our society, as we have moved from the end of a manufacturing base in her day to the service-based economy of the 21st century, has indeed become more complex and interdependent.

Scott A. Edmonds, OD, FAAO
Scott A. Edmonds

The Constitution, in defining its own purpose and the role of government in the preamble, speaks to establishing justice and promoting the general welfare of our people. To do these things, our leaders must evaluate the current complexities of our environment, look to the experience of other countries and societies, listen to our scientists and other context experts, and take action to execute the sworn duties of their elected office. If they fail to do these things, we, the people, must do our duty and vote them out of office.

I watched with fascination and yet dismay over the issue of wearing masks and following the rules of social distancing that have been recommended by the CDC. This is not a private organization or some left-wing outfit. This is major operating component of HHS of the U.S. government.

Although there were indeed some mixed messages in the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, by early July, both the CDC and Anthony Fauci, MD, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, were strongly recommending that all Americans wear a face mask in public and practice social distancing. Yet there is no federal guidance or mandate for our citizens to wear a mask. At the time of this writing, only 29 states and the District of Columbia have requirements for citizens to wear masks. Absent from this list is the state of Florida with over 10,000 new cases and 100 deaths per day.

It is important to note that the issue of masks has become political in America and follows the same tribal loyalties as the issue of guns. It seems that the wearing of a mask, like the owning of a gun, are such important freedoms that they trump the responsibility of public health (no pun intended).

With much more evidence over a much larger time frame, the issue of the direct relationship between gun possession by private citizens and gun violence resulting in injury or death is well documented. Yet, we continue to lead the world in exercising this outdated freedom despite the growing threat to our fellow citizens. Rather than look at the wealth of articles on this topic that could have author bias, I did my own deep dive on this by looking at the ICD-10 codes for gun related injury (W32.xxxx-W34.xxxx) for 2015 for a number of counties with similar social structures to the U.S. but different gun laws. This would not include gun deaths, as they did not show up for medical care. A data sample is as follows: U.S. 489, England 6, Spain 22, Greece 11, Germany 6, Scotland 1, Japan 3, Norway 0, Northern Ireland 0 and Israel 0.

The issue of personal freedoms without social responsibility is at the heart of the American dilemma. Whether the topic is guns, masks or other issues of public health and safety, the outcome is the same. Our American society continues to decay over our inability to update the very principles that made us great 250 years ago.

This core problem is also the same one that plagues the main theme of this blog series on health care reform. Our modern health care system has the tools, talent and technology to take excellent care of our citizens. Yet we fail to pass legislation that would make core health care a basic right for all citizens. Once again, we continue to lag way behind the civilized world on this fundamental issue as we fight to preserve the freedom of our people to refuse to secure health insurance.

America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic should be a huge wake-up call to our fundamental failings. Despite our wealth of resources, we lead the world in failure. With weak leadership, disorganization, tribal division, ignorance and arrogance, we continue to move in the wrong direction.

But all is not lost. We have one freedom that we need to exercise, but again, to exercise responsibly. That is the right to vote. Forget the tribe and the news media and do your own homework to cast a responsible vote. Let’s take back America.

References: