Opting Out Of Vaccines Should Be An Option For Parents

Earlier Anna Morris took the view it is fair to mandate kids be vaccinated. While I certainly agree with Beth S that not vaccinating one’s child is harmful (my son has all his vaccines), I have to disagree with Anna’s view on mandatory vaccinations.

Vaccine opt outs in public schools should remain in place.

It is not the role of government to mandate medical procedures. Period. This is why I was against Virginia’s proposal to mandate transvaginal ultrasounds before an abortion. This is why I am against throwing away vaccine opt outs in public schools. Public schools are an arm of the government and receiving a vaccination is a medical procedure. As it is not the government’s role to mandate medical procedures and public schools are an extension of government, it is not public schools’ role to mandate vaccinations.

And it is difficult to argue that the government should have more say over a parent when it comes to that parent’s children. Not only does banning vaccine opt outs undermine small government, it undermines the notion that a parent has the right to decide what is best for his or her child.

But the rabbit hole goes even deeper. Every child in the United States is guaranteed an education. Public schools are available to those who cannot afford private school. There is no telling whether a parent who chooses not to vaccinate his or her child can afford private schools. Banning vaccine opt outs can have the unintended consequence of barring children from receiving guaranteed education – whether one thinks that guarantee is valid or not.

Of course, this issue does not apply to private schools. As private institutions, they do not guarantee education for every child, and requiring vaccinations is not outside the scope of a private institution’s role.

This leads into Morris’ claim that “[a]rguing that vaccines should fall under religious freedom is absurd.”

Concerns regarding how banning vaccine opt outs affect religious freedom are completely valid – and worth considering.

Public schools allow children to opt out of vaccines for religious reasons. Obviously nonreligious Vaccine Truthers just make up something on these opt out papers, but let us set that consideration aside. There are some religions that are against vaccinations. For example, Christian Scientists believe that medical interventions are “unnecessary” and vaccines fall under that category (although Christian Scientists do not have an official position on vaccinations). Should Christian Scientists be forced to violate their religious beliefs due to a government mandate?

If vaccine opt outs were banned in the face of freedom of religion, what does this say about other medical procedures that are refused for religious reasons? If the government can mandate that a Christian Scientist must receive vaccinations, can the government also prevent Jehovah’s Witnesses from refusing their child a blood transfusion? Banning vaccine opt outs is the beginning of a slippery slope that can lead to consequences such as the one stated above.

It is not the role of government to undermine one of the very rights iterated in the First Amendment: freedom of religion.

If the government can mandate medical procedures – like vaccinations – there’s precedent for (a) forcing religious individuals to violate their beliefs and (b) transvaginal ultrasounds in Virginia. It surprises me that liberals in favor of banning vaccine opt outs haven’t considered the second consequence.

There is also the issue of freedom of religion vs. agency. The relationship between freedom of religion and agency is far more complex and one that I will not come down on either way. Refusing vaccines is really a question of “can and should a parent potentially harm his or her child by denying medical treatment for religious reasons when the child is not old enough to consent?” This is not “consent” in the legal sense, but in a religious sense. One can argue that a child isn’t totally aware of or set in his or her religious beliefs until s/he is older. A child of Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot legally consent to a blood transfusion, but what is the moral imperative upon the parents? Should the child be harmed via refused treatment or is it a case of avoiding a greater harm from a higher power? If one does think that these parents deliberately harm their children, what does that say about religion-based vaccine opt outs?

A child’s lack of agency and fully-formed beliefs is what I see as the real curveball entity in the debate about whether public schools should or should not mandate vaccinations.

What do you think? And please get your kids vaccinated.