Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!
This week’s question: Vaccinations
The anti-vaccination movement has been gaining momentum over the last few years, resulting in many children remaining unvaccinated. California is currently debating a bill that would prevent parents from opting their children out of vaccinations in the wake of a Disneyland measles outbreak. Opponents of the bill say it imposes beliefs onto parents who believe vaccines are dangerous and have personal or religious beliefs against them; supporters say that it will make the population healthier overall and prevent outbreaks of potentially deadly diseases. There have been numerous other cases beyond vaccines of parents denying children medical care for personal or religious reasons. Is it ethical for parents to refuse medical care or vaccinations for children due to personal/religious convictions? Is it ethical for the state to force vaccinations? Do parents have the right to deny vaccinations to their children when it may affect others’ children?
Rachel Hanebutt: First of all, I believe there is a discrepancy between parental rights and parental responsibilities here. The question should not be whether it’s a parent’s right not to vaccinate their child but rather if it’s ethical for parents not to vaccinate their children; it’s not a matter of individual health, but rather one of public health. In my opinion, it becomes a matter of child negligence when a parent chooses not to vaccinate their child and are therefore not providing proper care to ensure they will not contract diseases that can be preventable and are potentially life-threatening. Parenting operates in the private sphere, yes, however, their children interact with others in public spaces, such as school, that do not allow sickness or other dangers to impede on the wellbeing of the others around them. Unless society is going to ban children who have not been vaccinated from all public spaces (highly unlikely), then all parents should be held accountable to vaccinating their children in the same ways they are legally responsible for the use of car seats and seatbelts.
Corby Burger: I would have to agree with Rachel. There comes a point when societal benefits trump personal choice. When this threshold is reached, it is morally permissible for the state to subdue the choice of a minority faction for the betterment of society as a whole. Is this not the most basic function of government? This is truly a public health concern that directly defies conventional knowledge and health procedures. Those that choose not to vaccinate their children are deliberately putting others in harm’s way, which seems to be a basic prerequisite for amorality.
Amy Brown: I find that when personal choices begin to affect the larger public group in a damaging manner, it’s not right to allow the specific type of behavior when it is a danger to society. While taking away rights is unethical in general, the overall health and safety of the population make it unethical to not vaccinate children. Vaccinations are something that affects the entire group, so religious and personal convictions hold little to no personal wait in this situation. If a grown adult refuses medical care for a non-contagious disease due to religious or personal beliefs, fine; but when it comes to parents denying vaccinations and medical care to their children, that steps over the line into unethical and societally dangerous behavior.
Caroline Zadina: My heart goes out to the parents who believe that the vaccination their child received has caused him/her sickness rather than health. In my eyes, that presents a very real and scary problem. I am also sensitive to the cultural/religious beliefs that go against vaccinations in general. However, when contemplating an ethical issue like this, I think it is important to look at the larger issue at hand. If your child is not vaccinated, becomes sick, and causes other children to become sick and suffer, it is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved. I do not believe that is ethical for a parent to withhold a vaccine used to promote the health of a child when it has been proven safe. Especially when the consequence of that decision will be directly felt by the child, and may also impact the wellbeing of the greater society. However, I do think that a more sensitive explanation that explains the consequences of the situation at hand, rather than making it appear like a threat to individual freedom, is warranted.
Noelle Witwer: Personal and religious convictions can affect medical care decisions in a number of ways, and these situations tend to be ethically complex. I agree with Caroline that it is important to consider the reasons behind parents’ opposition to vaccinations. Learning more about why parents don’t wish to vaccinate their children may help design the most effective solution to this issue. However, I agree with Rachel and Corby that, essentially, the widespread use of vaccinations is essential for maintaining public health, and thus may ultimately warrant legislation.
Cheney Hagerup: Looking back on the N1H1 virus and the widespread (and possibly unfounded) fear that caused much of the population to seek vaccination, I began to question the necessity of such vaccinations. It is difficult for me to align with the warnings I hear about the necessity of vaccination because the existence of major pharmaceutical companies that make ridiculous sums of money off of these vaccinations makes me feel blinded from real medical recommendations. I remember that with the H1N1 vaccination, there were extensive side effects and health risks involved (especially to pregnant women and children) and, yet, families continued to seek out the vaccination en masse. Due to the impossibility I see in separating genuine medical recommendations for vaccinations from pharmaceutical biases involving financial gain, I support each individual parent’s decision on whether to vaccinate their children or not. In light of recent events (i.e. RFRA, Baltimore police brutality), I have come to see that governmental institutions do not always have the best interest of the individual in mind.
Eleanor Price: As Rachel said so well, vaccination is not a matter of purely individual rights. But beyond the danger of causing other children (and the public at large) sickness, diseases that we had thought on the way to eradication might begin to reappear. Suddenly this becomes more than a domestic problem — it’s global. The physical health of world should be weighted more heavily in the ethical dilemma than individual desires.
How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of vaccination ethics!