“The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachments by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding” – Justice Louis Brandeis


We reproduce below the Human Rights Commission Ruling on fluoridation, complete with spelling errors and appalling grammar. Having an LLB(Hons), if a first year law student submitted this as an opinion I would give them an “E”. (The editor)

Note particularly the lack of any analysis, the fact that the original covers less than 3 pages, with almost 1 page being taken up by unnecessarily repetitious “padding”.

Note also that there is no reference to the civil liberties view of any organisation or European Government opposing fluoridation.

Compare the ruling with the following extracts from the New Zealand Court of Appeal’s ruling in one of the leading Bill of Rights cases: MOT v Noort 3 NZLR [1992] 260.

The Court approved the privy Council ruling in Fisher, also rendered in 1980:

[Human rights provisions] call for a generous interpretation avoiding what has been called “the austerity of tabulated legalism”, suitable to give to individuals the full measure of the fundamental rights and freedoms referred to.

And again, referring to the ICCPR to which New Zealand is a State party:

As recognised in the preamble to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, human rights “derive from the inherent spiritual dignity of the human person” and States party to the Covenant are obliged “to promote universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and freedoms.”

It should be noted that the Commission has always been underfunded by successive Governments, and that the NZ Bill of Rights Act was not passed until 1990, but that does not excuse this atrociously inadequate report.

Human Rights Commission Fluoridation : Report on Representations on Fluoridation of Water Supplies, 1980.

The Commission has received a number of submissions on the question of fluoridation of water supplies. The best known complainant is Dir Dove-Meyer Robinson, the Mayor of Auckland. He sums up as follows in these words:

“I simply claim that my right as an individual to decide what I take into my own body is infringed by the fluoridating of Auckland’s water supplies.”

The question that is raised would appear to have implications for medical ethics. There was accordingly correspondence with the Department of Health, with the Medical Association of New Zealand, and with the New Zealand Dental Association.

The Health Department takes the view that fluoridation cannot be considered in any way a health hazard, and that fluoride is an element naturally occurring in water in many areas, and that where the natural fluoride content is below the optimal level, then public authorities should be encouraged to raise this level. (Editor’s note: what has this to do with medical ethics or human rights considerations?) In this regard, the Department of Health has supplied the text of resolutions passed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) regarding fluoridation. There was, for instance, the resolution on the World Health Organisation General Assembly in 1969 on fluoridation and dental health, recommending to member States the introduction of “fluoridation of these community water supplies where the fluoride intake from water and other sources for the given population is below optimal level, is a proven health measure.” (Editor’s note: again this does not address the ethical issue. Also it should be remembered that even 7 years later there was far from unanimity on the issue:the 1976 General Assembly meeting was decribed by the Health Minister of Luxembourg as having ” been preceded by dramatic discussions, at times extremely violent, between followers and the adversaries of fluoridation of drinking water, which proves to society that the last word has certainly not been said in this complex and complicated domain.”)

The question of fluoridation was considered in New Zealand by the Commission of Inquiry in 1957. That Commission heard 122 witnesses. (Editor’s note: but few were regarding human rights, since it was not part of the Commission’s terms of reference). It was the view of the Commission that fluoridation of the water supplies “does not involve medication of community supplies” and that “no question of personal liberty arises in regard to fluoridation.

There was also a Commission of Inquiry into the question of fluoridation of the public water supplies in Tasmania in 1968. The Commissioner dealt with the problem by looking at the question of liberty and of rights as being one where there must be a balance struck with the demands of a similarised, orderly and healthy society. He places much weight on his view that it was children of tender years derive primary objective benefit from fluoridation, and their “rights to healthy teeth must predominate”.

This report in Tasmania goes some way towards acknowledging that there is a problem in relation to rights and liberties of the individual in relation to what is sometimes called “mass medication”. In the end, however, he did not accept that the arguments advanced on these grounds were valid.

Discussions were held with the New Zealand Medical Association and there were considerable correspondence with them over a period of months. By letter dated 14 September 1979, the New Zealand Medical Association advised as follows:

“The NZMA policy on fluoridation is as follows:
that in the interests of community health, NZMA endorses the principle of support for fluoridation of water supplies and actively promote fluoridation of water supplies in all areas.”

As far as the consideration of this question as a human rights issue is concerned the NZMA Central Ethical Committee is of the opinion that “even if fluoridation of water supplies is considered to be “forced medication” there are times when public good outweighs the rights of the individual, and when it would therefore be ethically acceptable, eg compulsory treatment for V.D., immunization for travellers from overseas, and treatment of patients committed to mental hospitals.”

There was also correspondence with the New Zealand Dental Association on the question of the ethics of fluoridation. The Annual General Meeting of the New Zealand Dental Association to be held in August 1980 will have before it for adoption the following statements of policy on fluoridation of the communal water supplies:

  1. The New Zealand Dental Association recognizes the fluoridation of public water supply by approved methods as the most effective known means of providing lifelong significant levels of protection against dental caries.
  2. The New Zealand Dental Association fully supports the World Health Organisation recommendation to Member States to introduce where practical fluoridation of those water supplies where the fluoride intake from water and other sources for the given population is below optimal level, as a proven public health measure.
  3. In keeping with this recommendation the NZDA believes that the Government should make mandatory the fluoridation of all water supplies and should provide a full subsidy of fluoridation equipment.

In the report of the Commission of Inquiry into fluoridation of the public water supplies in New Zealand in 1957, the question of the rights of citizens was considered at length. The view of the Commission on this particular point is stated simply in paragraph 510;- “individuals possess the obvious right to water as one of the essentials of life. We do not consider, however, that they have an equivalent right to receive it through a man-made system or, given the system, to receive it without interruption, in unlimited quantities, and according to the specification which suits their own taste.”

The conclusions of the Commission of Inquiry on this point was summed up in paragraph 521 as follows:

  1. That the avoidance of fluoridated water might cause inconvenience but in no case would its use be compulsory;
  2. That the process does not involve medication of community supplies;
  3. That humans have an inherent right to water as one of the essentials of life but not such wide interests in regard to community water supplies which are merely one of the means of providing it; and
  4. No question of personal liberty arises in regard to fluoridation.

The argument about mass medication or forced medication appears to be based on false analogy of the forced feeding that occures (sic) in respect to people who have gone on hunger strike. (Editor’s note: 1. This has nothing to do with medical ethics, which the Commission began on; 2. We are aware of no such analogy being used by those who, with an understanding of human rights jurisprudence with which the Commission is apparently not familiar, argue against fluoridation the civil liberties ground.) There is, however, no real similarities between the two situations as no attempt is made to force people in any direct physical way to drink water that has been fluoridated. There may be difficulties and even a considerable degree of inconvenience in obtaining unfluoridated water by those to whom this is a matter of importance, but there is no sense in which it can be alleged that they are forced to drink fluoridated water except as a matter of their own convenience.

(Editor’s note: how do people avoid fluoridated water, or food prepared therewith, (including soup, tea, and coffee) when going to a restaurant. With no mandatory labeling, how do they identify soft drinks which have been made with fluoridated water. How in fact does one avoid fluoridated water without to some extent withdrawing from normal society. Why does the Commission not address this?)

In all these circumstances, therefore, it is considered that the question of fluoridation of water supplies by public authorities does not constitute a denial of human rights.