Senator Zappone made an impactful speech in support of the right of every Irish citizen to choose whether or not they wish have their water medicated with fluoride given that they are, from 1st October, 2014, paying for it.
Read the Senator's speech here.
I thank the Minister of State for her attendance and comments. I will begin my support for Senator Mary Ann O'Brien's motion by addressing the issue of semantics. According to the Government's amendment to our motion, water fluoridation is not medicinal. I looked up definitions of "medicine". A fairly standard one is "a drug or other preparation for the treatment or prevention of disease". The amendment goes on to argue that water fluoridation is an effective means of preventing disease, namely, tooth decay. As such, the first line of the amendment is intended to lead us down a detour while the Government contradicts itself in the amendment's second line, making the detour a dead end.
I will address the substance of our motion. Fluoride is the only chemical added to public water to treat the consumer of the water rather than the water itself. Therefore, fluoride is viewed by the Government as a form of medicine or a health treatment that prevents disease. Consequently, the fluoridation of public water must be held to the strict scrutiny and standards applied to other health treatments. Citizens must enjoy the same rights as regards water fluoridation as they do in respect of other aspects of health. Reducing human rights arguments to a "liberal emphasis on choice" is unacceptable.
In no other area of health care does the Government impose a blanket treatment on the entire population without the expressed and informed consent of those affected. Citizens must be given choice over their health treatment and be provided with a recourse to opt out if they wish to forgo said treatment. It is unethical to force an unwanted health treatment on an individual. The Government should not continue to impose water fluoridation requirements universally. If the national mandate continues, the Government must provide support to those who do not want to be treated. There are practical ways of doing so.
Every human has the right to "the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health", as articulated in the UN Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which we have signed. To ensure the health and safety of its residents, the Government must re-evaluate its law and policy in light of the recent emerging evidence to which Senators Mary Ann O'Brien and Quinn referred. The Minister of State referred to the constitutional case, which Senator Burke first mentioned. While that is interesting, if scientific evidence emerges to indicate that fluoride can be a risk to our health, it must at the very least mean that our citizens should have a choice. We do not have a right to choose to reject an imposed health treatment, particularly if there is evidence indicating that it may create a risk to our health. A growing body of scientific literature questions the long-term safety of water fluoridation, but I will not go over it again.
It is important to note that rates of tooth decay have plummeted in Ireland since the 1960s. We do not know how much of that improvement in oral health can be attributed solely to the fluoridation in water. Education and practices in oral health have also improved dramatically in recent decades. The improvement could have been owing to these, even in the case of poorer children who are well able to be educated like the rest of us. In the same timeframe, many European countries witnessed similar declines in the rate of tooth decay without the use of public fluoridation of water. In Finland and Germany, for example, the number of cavities did not increase. Indeed, some countries saw declines despite the cessation of water fluoridation. This must be taken into account.
A point that has not been mentioned much in this debate is that opposition is growing to the fluoridation of public water. As Government representatives, we must consider this issue. In 2002, a public survey found that 45% of people in Ireland had concerns about water fluoridation. Many local efforts have worked to stop the fluoridation of water. Since 2012, local councils have passed motions calling for the cessation of water fluoridation. The Government, in its wisdom, needs to listen and the growing public resistance must be incorporated into national policy.
Ireland is the only EU country with a national regulation stipulating public water fluoridation. This year, Israel stopped adding fluoride to its drinking water following a decision of its Supreme Court. That ruling was clearly rooted in the individual's human right to decide whether to consume water treated with fluoride.
Like others, including some UN conventions, it is my opinion that legislation must guarantee the human right to choose in questions of health and ensure an adequate standard of living, including access to adequate drinking water. Therefore, I support the motion and call on the Government to change the law. The Government must first ensure that, as the Hippocratic Oath demands, its health policy does no harm.