When is it ever ethical to a make a medical decision for your child that may endanger other children?

Most of us would answer NEVER.

This is an ethical no brainer. Right?


Every day, tens of thousands of parents across the United States make decisions that most medical experts believe could not only put their children at risk but other children as well.

These parents refuse to have their children vaccinated against dangerous childhood diseases such as diphtheria, rubella, mumps, measles, influenza, whooping cough, and many more. The medical evidence is overwhelming that when an unvaccinated child who is ill comes in contact with vaccinated children, the vaccinated children can be infected. The doctor or nurse who gives the vaccination can tell you, vaccines are not 100 percent effective; they are effective 85-95 percent of the time.

Ben Bycel

Parents who oppose vaccinations fall into two general groups. First, a growing number of parents believe that vaccinations, in general, are far more dangerous to their child’s health than the diseases they are to prevent. It’s not an ethical decision for them; it’s a medical one. And, yes, a small percentage of children become ill and even die from vaccinations each year.

One outspoken advocate of the non-vaccination position is attorney Alan G. Phillips, who claims to be the leading “U.S. vaccine-rights attorney.” Philips’s website is filled with information for parents. He writes:

Childhood infectious disease decline … in the 20th century is widely but erroneously attributed to vaccines. On average, about 90 percent of infectious disease decline preceded vaccine …. In fact some disease rates actually increased following the introduction of vaccines.

Another group of parents who oppose vaccinations on medical grounds focuses on vaccinations as the cause of autism in their children. They cite studies, reports, and articles that support their theory. The vast majority of scientific studies have, however, concluded that there is no credible evidence that any one vaccine or any combination of vaccines causes or triggers any manifestations of autism.

Another theory about vaccinations is that when the majority of a population has received an innoculation, a “herd immunity” helps shield the unvaccinated from the disease. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children might take a small measure of comfort from this idea, but it also places them in the morally dubious space of benefiting from other parents taking a risk they are not willing to take themselves. Also, herd immunity only works as long as the herd stays vaccinated. If the notion leads to a larger proportion of the population refusing innoculation, we’re back to everyone getting terribly sick.

The vaccine debate is placed in a stark light when you think of the current tuberculosis outbreak in Santa Maria. While TB is not a disease against which people in the U.S. are actively innoculated, the drug-resistant strain infecting a number of the patients in Santa Maria begs the question.

Other parents oppose their children’s vaccination because of religious, ethical, or personal philosophical beliefs. They argue that whether or not to vaccinate a child should be a decision made by the parents, not the school or the government. About 20 states, including California, provide exemptions for such personal beliefs, as well as religious beliefs.

California law for opting out of vaccinations for personal philosophical grounds, however, changed on January 1, 2014. Now, a parent wanting to stop school vaccinations for a minor must have a medical professional (MD, DO, naturopathic doctor, and most nurses) sign a statement that states the medical professional “provided information” to the parent or guardian of the minor about the benefits of immunizations.

On the same form, parents must check a box stating that either they received the information or check the box that states they are members of a religious group that does not allow them to seek such medical advice. The parent must present this form to the school.

Some who have followed this change think that having parents listen to a medical professional explain the dangers of forgoing vaccinations will reduce the number of parents who, on philosophical or medical grounds, refuse to have their children vaccinated.

Others who are watching the new law think it will have little or no effect on how many parents refuse to have their children vaccinated on philosophical or medical grounds.

Regardless of what a parent’s religious or personal beliefs are, I think it is ethically and morally wrong to allow children who are not immunized to attend school with children who have been vaccinated against the multitude of childhood diseases. I am concerned about the unvaccinated children of course, but the law generally sides with parents’ exclusive rights to make decisions for their own children.

But why should others be allowed to make decisions that affect your children?

Where do you come down on this important issue?


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