Monday, April 23, 2018

Discussion on whether vaccines should be mandatory

A friend recently challenged me on my views against mandatory vaccination.  Here was our conversation.

Daniel: Hot take: we must go full totalitarian on vaccination and vaccinate people on a mass scale, with punishments for avoiding vaccination. Vaccination is a matter of public safety and cannot be up to debate.

Me: "We must go full totalitarian"


"Because it's a matter of public safety."


Samantha: I'm not really for mandatory vaccination but I do think that if you don't vaccinate then there's some spaces including public school that you shouldn't be able to enter.

Me: ^this. Strong de facto pressure to do it, and protection for the rest of society, without completely inverting our sense of self-ownership and the acceptable conditions for government coercion.

Jacob: doctors’ offices serving low-immunity groups too (e.g. pediatricians, geriatricians).

A lot of pediatricians already refuse to serve those who refuse vaccinations for no reason, because it makes physically going to their practice unsafe for their patients, especially the ones who medically can't get vaccinated.

Kayla: How about fixing the education system and going against the tide of anti-intellectualism so that we have a more properly scientifically literate culture?

Daniel: So I see that for most of the people here, the question of choice is an important one. However, I fail to see why it matters in this context.

Most vaccinations are performed on children. Now, in most of today’s societies a parent will be punished if they choose to harm their kids physically, sexually or psychologically. Even if they choose to not educate their kids, repercussions will follow. We also assume that children are unable to make rational decisions so we don’t allow them to do any harm to themselves, for example, we don’t sell alcohol to minors.

If there is a consensus in our society that vaccines are of an incredible importance to one’s survival, why should we treat a parent who avoids vaccination for their child differently than a parent who endangered their child’s safety in any other way?

Me: Because you’re conflating different things under an overbroad conception of child “endangerment.”

If I strike or molest my child, I haven’t just “endangered” it: have intentionally harmed it.  That violates the child’s negative rights, which are its most fundamental rights.  In fact, it would violate their rights even if they were not my child.

If I carelessly leave a Tide Pod or pet scorpion on the floor, where my toddler might try to eat it, then it’s fair to say I’ve “endangered” my child: accidentally or not, I have introduced a new threat to my child which wasn’t there previously.  This isn’t as bad as harming my child on purpose, but occasionally it’s negligent enough to be criminally punishable.

Then there’s a third category, which is failing to protect my child from pre-existing dangers I did not create. All children are at risk of being kidnapped on their way home from school.  Some parents choose to mitigate this risk by picking their kids up at the bus stop, while others are comfortable allowing them to walk home.  Likewise, all children are at risk of being struck by lightning while they’re playing outside.  Some parents choose to negate this risk by ushering them inside as soon as the skies look ominous, while others are content to let them splash in the puddles.  People have different risk tolerance for their children just as they do for themselves, and even if we disagree with a parent’s decisions privately, legally speaking we typically (and rightly) allow parents a certain degree of latitude in determining which natural risks they deem acceptable, on the usually-accurate assumption that they have their child’s best interests in mind.  Choosing not to vaccinate one’s children falls into this third category.

Deviating from this logic just because you’re impatient with scientifically illiterate parents creates a serious slippery slope.  We could likely produce studies proving children who do not exercise face heightened health risks as well, but mandatory daily exercise just doesn’t comport with our sense of self-ownership or parental rights.  Likewise, children without access to books at home, or with low parental involvement in their education undoubtedly do worse in school, and are therefore disadvantaged from a young age; would you feel comfortable requiring parents to read with their children for 30 minutes a day, under penalty of law?  Or are such private matters simply not your business, no matter how much evidence you have that the child would benefit from doing things your way?

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