Of Measles and Freedom: When Does the Common Good Override Stupidity?
Not vaccinating your children is stupid. Not only is it stupid, in that the studies linking vaccines to autism have been utterly debunked and that you are clearly exposing your child to viruses mankind has eliminated (diseases which caused a great deal of pain, suffering and death throughout human history), but it’s also dangerous to public health. If you choose not to vaccinate your child against aggressive communicable diseases, you not only expose your child to the potentially crippling and catastrophic life-long implications of contracting a horrible, preventable, disease, but you also run the risk of that disease spreading in the population.
Coming from a point where we have established that not vaccinating your children is not based in science nor is it based in common sense or good parenting, the actual difficult question comes up: who gets to decide whether my child is vaccinated? This should be an easy question for anyone whose head isn’t full of nonsensical ideas and backwards interpretations of flawed science: you decide, like a good parent who cares about your children, to vaccinate your child against potentially catastrophic disease. That should be the end of it, the science says: do this and your child will not suffer from preventable catastrophe. That should be good enough for the vast majority of reasonable people to decide that it is in the best interest of their child to spare the child from the potentially devastating effects of disease.
However, there are some, it appears from the news (let’s hope that this number is being blown out of proportion because the anti-vaccine idea is so cripplingly dangerous), who have, for whatever reason, decided that they will not vaccinate their children. The reasons seem to vary from a misinterpretation of scientific studies that link vaccination to mental disorders (even though just from a reasonable look at the numbers, if we assume >90% of the population is vaccinated against formerly common diseases, the incidence of mental illness, even if there was a correlation, is not the causation factor) or that they should have the right to decide what goes into their child’s body.
The first argument is nonsensical as it is not supported by science. (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/autism/) Ok, don’t want to believe the CDC for some reason? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy) But, anyone can edit Wikipedia! (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2810%2960175-4/fulltext).
This site runs on libertarian-minded views. Therefore, how can one who is liberty-minded justify a government that seeks to mandate vaccinations, even when said vaccination is safe? Isn’t the slippery slope argument right around the corner here? For example, “okay, we’ll admit that childhood vaccinations are safe, but what if the government uses its power of forced vaccinations to push less-concrete science on us? Could this lead to force birth control or some kind of invasion of American family life? This is incrementalism!”
To these concerns, it is best to respond that any action taken by the government to make a mandate should be greeted with skepticism. While individual actions taken to benefit others are, largely, undertaken out of a sense of altruism, the actions taken by the government necessarily originate from a place of utilitarianism. That is not a bad thing, we should prefer a government that is trying to reach the common good rather than to reach its own perception of what is right. However, when the government exercises broad powers ostensibly to protect the common good, such steps must come at the expense of some degree of personal liberty.
In a truly free society, parents would be able to elect what medical procedures would be used or not used on their children. In this society, education would be critical to make sure concerns and fears are promptly and completely addressed in order to remove doubt. In this society, the government as it would exist would make the suggestion that vaccination be undertaken but have no power to coerce the decision of parents. While most people would undertake to protect their children, there would still be those who made the uninformed decision not to vaccinate. In this society, peer pressure and evidence would be the only tools society would have to make sure that other children are protected.
Conversely, in a purely utilitarian state, all children would be mandatorily vaccinated regardless of what parents thought. The rationale here is that disease is a threat to public safety and the common order of society and must be eradicated. Your individual choices have the potential to magnify your wrong thinking and hurt countless others. Consequently, because eradicating disease is a compelling government interest and your personal beliefs are provably in error, you have no right to resist vaccination.
Ideally, one would hope that elements of both scenarios, while not agreeable, are understandable. If you do not understand why the issues of public health are not compelling for the state, or you fail to understand how government-mandated programs implicate some degree of personal liberty, you need to look deeper into these issues.
Moving forward, while education remains principal in dispelling rumors and bad science, the government has a compelling interest in mandating vaccinations where its services are involved. In what is likely, at least for now, a fair compromise, is that, in order to make use of government services, such as public education, you must submit on the issue of scientifically-backed issues related to public health.
Now, this power should be tailored directly and exclusively to issues of vaccination and communicable disease. Certainly, this is not a mandate to force particular ideas or untested theories on the population, but when the interest is so compelling and provable, the government has a right to make sure that no persons who make use of its services should fear contracting a disease.
This issue should not take up so much time in the public consciousness as it has germinated from a place of bad science, fear, and innuendo. Forcing children to get vaccines is bad optics, but the spread of disease is bad for public health. While vaccination should be voluntary to protect individual liberty, “the right to swing your fist ends with your neighbor’s face.” Government becomes involved when you begin to expose the public to potential dangers. To best reconcile your rights with the common good, it is correct for the government to tie its services to your decision to make your child safe for the community.