Question from a reader: your rights and the swine flu

A reader writes in with a question many teachers have been wondering about: the swine flu and our rights.

Do you have any idea about what are our rights when it comes to swine flu? Like for example, my friend got sick, and her school made her go to the hospital, where they injected her with multiple things--she has no idea what--and then gave her several unknown drugs to take. A week or so later, she still had a cough, so they made her go back to the hospital, where they gave her Tamiflu, and her school ordered her to take it. I'm not sure how much you know about influenza or Tamiflu.....but that was the most illogical move imaginable. She even got tested for swine flu, and the test says she doesn't have it!

So if I get sick, and my school tries to make me go to the hospital, I will freak out. I will not let them inject me with anything, I will not take any random drugs they gave me, I will not take Tamiflu. I'm not against medical treatment or anything, I have a pretty standard view of it, but nothing cures the flu except Tamiflu if given at the very beginning--and it should only really be given to the most high-risk patients, given the bad side-effects--and of course Tylenol to keep the fever down. Will I get deported if I don't let them inject me with things? Can your school order you to take drugs? I'm so scared!

And one of my coworkers was sick today at school, with a fever even, but she was afraid to say anything or ask to go home because she feared everyone would flip out and probably ask her to stay home from work for weeks--even if she doesn't have the flu--and she's probably right! But if she does have the flu, well she probably infected a bunch of people at school today because she didn't go home. Does anyone else have these same fears?

I see a couple other bloggers have beaten me to the punch - HT to Brian in Jeollanam-do and Ask the Expat :)

While I'm far from a legal expert, the first thing I would say regarding this particular issue is that it's not precisely a legal problem, but a social issue with side effects and consequences bound to outlast the current paranoia. It's true that swine flu has become a problem in Korea - I see the students coming in with masks everyday, and getting stuck with an ear thermometer isn't exactly my idea of fun.

What rights do you have? Legally and academically speaking you have 95% of the same rights as a Korean; there's that law about not getting involved in political stuff, and there may be some specific rules as far as your visa goes. Since your rights seem to fly out the window as soon as the proclamation to protect them has been announced, let's move out of that world as well.

If you find yourself in a situation where you're being told to do something or being treated differently because of a sickness (real or perceived), the very first thing to do is ask questions. Understand what's going on - and dig in your heels until you figure it out. Good questions include:
  • What do you need me to do?
  • Where do I need to go?
  • How much will this cost?
If you're not feeling well and want to go home, but the school won't let you:
  • What does our contract say about sick days?
  • Would you prefer I possibly spread swine flu to our students?
If you're at the doctor's office:
  • What is that drug / what are you giving me?
  • Are there any side effects?
  • How much will this cost?
  • When will we have the results?
If you're not feeling well, simply saying 'I don't feel well' isn't enough - and it really doesn't hurt to be careful. Getting a checkup is a reasonable precaution, and getting tested or getting a medicine shouldn't cost you much of anything - the government is supposedly stepping up to the plate in that respect. It's best not to assume, though.

As for questions about the swine flu vaccine, its effectiveness and dangers, I'm not yet convinced it's not the safest or best science in the world. Is it better than getting the swine flu or risking an infection? Probably. Is it worth forcing a vaccine / medicine on a teacher for the sake of public health and keeping a school running smoothly? From a society's standpoint, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (and yes, that's a Star Trek reference). Being made to take treatment for a disease you have sounds draconian, but it has as much to do with perception than actual science.

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