Ever play that childhood – or drinking – game “Would You Rather?”
So, what would you rather do? Immunize your child against easily combated major illnesses – even if it included potentially, statistically unlikely, and technically unproven risks? Or skip the (imagined) risks altogether, putting your child at even greater risk for those same easily avoided illnesses such as measles, mumps, etc?
What if the question turned slightly, including more than your own kid? What if your decision to skip science and withhold vaccinations from your child threatens the lives of other children too young to have that option? Or worse, that the younger kid gets sick – and dies. Should you be on the hook – legally speaking?
You’re damn right. And that’s not just me talking (although it is), but it’s the thesis of an intriguing piece in the Journal of Law Medicine & Ethics where the authors ask “Is there a case for holding non-vaccinators legally liable for harm caused to others by their inaction?”
Nevermind that the leading voice behind the vaccination-autism link has long since been debunked, discredited and ostracized by the scientific community. Or that the poster child for the movement is a former centerfold taking a seat on a morning talk show. Or even that the science now points to another potential cause of autism (if this one even holds up). The simple fact of the matter is that this is a crusade based on nothing, led by actors. It might as well be Scientology.
And their conclusion?
“Liability could certainly exist if a parent simply chose not to vaccinate his child and a death results. Even if a parent chooses to not vaccinate a child under a state law permitting exemptions, that may not create complete protection against liability for the adverse consequences of that choice. Choices about vaccination have consequences, and sometimes, sadly, deadly consequences. It will be up to the courts to determine whether exemption statutes suffice to give complete protection against liability no matter how negligent, risky, or indifferent to the welfare of others a non-vaccinating parent is in exposing a child to others. The scientific and legal foundation for bringing charges against non-vaccinators for the harm they do exists.”
So the paper concedes the freedom from vaccination exits. (Which reminds me, what do we call these societal throwbacks? Non-vaxers? Anti-shooters? Flat earthers?) But along with nearly everything else in life, that choice doesn’t take place in a vacuum. What you choose to do (or not in this case) can impact others – and if it cause them harm, expense or worse, then you should be legally liable. I mean isn’t that the whole concept behind secondhand smoke, or even drunk driving?
Just like the mythical free lunch or honest politician, it’d becoming increasingly clear there’s no such thing as a victimless crime. And so maybe true freedom exists only in utter solitude.