Response to Public Consultation on Fluoridation Proposals – December 2008
South Central Strategic Health Authority (SHA) has invited members of the public to give their views on the proposal to add fluoride to drinking water in Southampton. This cannot be done without affecting significant numbers of people living in Totton, outside the city. There is no suggestion, so far as I am aware, that children – the primary focus of pro-fluoride campaigners – have poor standards of dental health in Totton. Yet, large numbers of my constituents are to be forced to drink artificially medicated water because some children in Southampton are not being educated by their parents or their teachers to brush their teeth properly.
Where people do brush their teeth properly, tooth decay is largely avoided. I do not believe that supporters of fluoridation seriously maintain that it adds benefit for people who are properly caring for their teeth. Thus, those of us – both children and adults – who do look after our teeth are to be forced to drink artificially medicated water because of a minority of people who neglect their own. Whilst children are below the age of responsibility, that responsibility falls instead on the adults charged with their care. The rest of the community should not be medicated to compensate for the failure of some parents or some schools, acting in loco parentis to inculcate good dental hygiene practices in children.
The principle of doing good for people compulsorily, whether they wish it or not, by adding medication to the water supply is totally unacceptable. The SHA has repeatedly made it clear that its mind is made up entirely in favour of fluoridation, where the scientific arguments are concerned. It is therefore a waste of time for me, or any other person taking part in this shallow imitation of a consultation exercise, to put forward any scientific objection pointing to the possible harmful effects of compulsory mass medication by adding fluoride to the water supply. The SHA also makes it clear that it will not be bound by the numbers of objections it receives. It follows from this that the consultation is bound to be a sham because the SHA clearly intends to disregard (1) all the arguments put forward by objectors with which it disagrees, and (2) any majority, in terms of numbers, which the objectors are able to muster against the process of fluoridation. It is well-nigh impossible to escape the conclusion .that the only reason why this hollow consultation is taking place at all is because the SHA is obliged by law to go through the motions of holding one.
Nevertheless, there are ethical principles at stake here, and also practical ones. The main ethical principle is that it is wrong to force people to take medicine of any sort if they do not wish to do so. It is doubly wrong when there are possible adverse effects from such medication; and it is trebly wrong to force people who are caring for their own health responsibly to ingest medication, largely or entirely for the benefit of other people who are not taking the trouble to look after themselves, or the children in their care, properly.
Dental decay, though greatly undesirable, is by no means as serious a problem as many illnesses with which various members of society will be afflicted at any one time. Suppose that medicines are developed (some, like aspirin, to combat strokes may exist already) which could prevent such serious illnesses if added to everyone's water supply. I can see no difference in principle between medicating everyone's drinking water to save some children's teeth, and medicating everyone's drinking water to save some people's lives. Indeed, the moral case would be much stronger for doing this in at least two respects: (1) strokes and similar afflictions are a much more serious danger to health, and (2) the potential victims have not brought their troubles on themselves in the way that most people suffering from dental decay have caused their own problems by failing to look after their own teeth.
Personally, I have little doubt that the sort of mentality which dominates the SHA would see little to object to in putting all sorts of medicines into the water supply in order to combat all sorts of diseases and illnesses. However, most normal people would regard this as a huge interference by the state which could only be justified, if ever, with the greatest reluctance on a temporary basis to combat some sort of raging epidemic.
In summary, I contend that it is impossible to justify the mass medication of the entire community for the benefit of the dental health of some children without also justifying the mass medication of the entire community for an open-ended list of other potential illnesses and complaints. Up until now, the nearest society has approached to this state of affairs has been the vaccination of children against a limited number of deadly diseases. Such powers of interference by the state should be exercised very sparingly indeed if we are not to descend an extremely slippery slope.
Needless to say, I do not believe any of the arguments spelt out above will have the slightest effect on the SHA which I regard as hopelessly biased in this matter. I have taken the trouble to formulate this submission not for the benefit of the SHA but for the benefit of the people of Totton who elected me to represent their interests and their views - views which the SHA will have no hesitation in overriding. I have been encouraged to note that amongst the democratic organisations which have rejected the stance of the SHA and which have voted against fluoridation are Hampshire County Council, New Forest District Council and Totton & Eling Town Council. In other words, every elected tier of government covering Totton is against fluoridation, and so am I as this community's Parliamentary representative.
(Dr) JULIAN LEWIS MP
House of Commons
London SW1A 0AA