Star Trek and Vaccination Refusal

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A fellow I know recently told me he was disturbed by his daughters’ refusal to vaccinate her infant child. He was understandably perturbed and was prepared to notify child protection but soon realized that this is locally a grey area, legally. Needless to say he blamed himself and of course his ex wife.  He believed as someone working on an MA in psychology his daughter should know better. After some discussion he acknowledged her freedom of choice but where another is concerned he felt that the matter was less than ethically clear. I had met her myself about two years before and was familiar with her rebellious nature and her own dynamics centering  around being raised by her unstable borderline mother, after the parental split and her inability to separate her own needs from that of her child. So there was certainly a psychological substrate underlying her choice.

My research on the subject then led me to explore the underlying dynamics of vaccine refusal, and not surprisingly they were parallel to those fond of complimentary alternative medicine (CAM). The most commonly used CAM modalities were nonvitamin, nonmineral, natural products, chiropractic, iridology, reflexology, and naturopathy. All therapies with the scientific validity of sorcery and fairy dust. The most common disorders treated by the CAM approach were chronic intractable physical ailments like lupus or MS or psychosomatic conditions like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, in addition to just about any major or minor psychiatric disorder.

The demographics of CAM users tend to be female with post secondary education and personality traits of skepticism towards science and medicine and neuroticism-traits characterized by anxiety, fear, moodiness and worry.
Vaccine refusers…

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In light of these quirks the ethical issue raised is, should she have the right to refuse? Is her choice rationally based? Answer: Probably not.. One could argue that she, as a non psychotic non demented competent adult, has the right to accept or refuse treatment as well as the right to informed consent. But where children are concerned the issues are a bit morally grey.

That brings us to her “membership” in society and tacit “signing” of the social contract wherein an individuals constitutional rights may at times be subordinate to the welfare of the collective. She does not live in a cave on a private island but in Canada and thus has a right to free health care and a variety of social benefits. I call this the Star Trek principle.. ” the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one”, derived not from Mr Spock but Jeremy Bentham..”It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

I think people should be able to withdraw from the social contract thereby giving up their rights to benefits of any kind in so doing. However rights end where the health of society is threatened by ignorance, superstition or religious prohibition. Individual freedoms are justly sacrificed where the health and safety of others is jeopardized. And so it is with vaccination refusal.

Governments often allow exemptions to mandatory vaccination for religious or philosophical reasons, but if too many of these exemptions are granted, the resulting free rider problem may cause loss of herd immunity, substantially increasing risks even to vaccinated individuals. Enter the role of the judiciary employing principles of democratic based socialism and enforcing the Star Trek mandate.

In Australia, a massive increase in vaccination rates was observed when the federal government made certain benefits such as the universal ‘Family Allowance’ payments dependent upon vaccination compliance.

Slovenia has one of the world’s most aggressive and comprehensive vaccination programs. Its program is mandatory for nine designated diseases. Failure to comply leads to a fine. The compliance rate is 95%
Human beings especially those who are inclined towards CAM irrationality lose their right to rugged individualism where the safety of others including offspring are at issue as exemplified here…

Consider Gardasil the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer, given to teenage females. Objections centre around religious based fears of encouraging promiscuity. In Slovenia this vaccine isn’t enforced and the compliance is only 50%. I see several moral ramifications that could justify enforced Gardasil.

At age 32 the child, now adult may develop cervical cancer. She is married with two children and must undergo a hysterectomy and chemotherapy. If she dies several years later the decision her parents made a generation before is no longer one that affects just an individual but several plus the health care system.

If a parent refuses Gardasil on religious or alternative medical grounds then it is unethical as it deprives the future adult of individual decision making. Someone else did it. Well meaning but irrational none the less. So is this not child abuse/neglect?  It is axiomatic that communities and societies are in place in part to nurture and protect children.

Though Bentham said “Every law is an infraction of liberty”, governing bodies are there to override selfish individualism and ensure adherence to universal moral principles that ensure the health of the next generation.

 

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3 Responses to “Star Trek and Vaccination Refusal”

  1. PapiT says:

    Borrowing the words of former slave Frederick Douglass explaining why he escaped slavery…”I am myself; you are yourself; we are two distinct persons, equal persons. What you are, I am. You are a man, and so am I. God created both, and made us separate beings. I am not by nature bound to you, or you to me. Nature does not make your existence depend upon me, or mine to depend upon yours. I cannot walk upon your legs, or you upon mine. I cannot breathe for you, or you for me; I must breathe for myself, and you for yourself. We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.”

    Your fundamental argument is one of individualism vs collectivism. Collectivism fails every time.

    “The greatest good for the greatest number” is the morality/ethics you propose for the collective. Ah, but who decides what the greatest “good” is? The collective? No, a majority of individuals…Group Think? Mob rule?

    Each individual should pursue his life-serving values and respect the rights of others to do the same. Each individual has rights…inalienable rights…that can neither be granted by nor taken away by another. In a Collective, an individual’s only rights are those given by the Collective.

    Not my cuppa tea, thank you.

    • Allan Seltzer MD says:

      The philosophy you support and promulgate is of the kind that contributes to the measles epidemic in Arizona. Individual rights means in your scenario respecting a self centred off centred person’s right to spread disease and suffering. Furthermore the Douglas view is era dependant. It can’t be extrapolated to the present in the context of the supremacy of individual rights assuming priority over reason. This being it’s my right not to be vaccinated.
      We elect governments to make laws for us and enforce them.If we object we can unseat them next election. Socialist governments are more likely to respect basic ethical principles that individualism doesn’t allow.This is the case with Slovenia and Singapore…”It is compulsory for parents and guardians to have their child vaccinated against measles and diphtheria. The penalty for non-compliance is a fine of up to $500 for the first offence and up to $1,000 for the second or subsequent offence.”

  2. kristina nadreau says:

    on the topic of the anti vaxers…. most vaccine is efficacious, most of the time for most people. vaccination is almost always preferable to to the disease. some times the diseases are lethal or have life long negative consequences which are avoided by vaccination.

    I notice the current crop of anti vaxers were all vaccinated as children so they have immunity to the diseases while their children are vulnerable. And of course they are willing to have their decision cause grief for others, as their children contract and spread the diseases to others.

    In another generation of non compliance,—- Influenza, polio, diptheria and pneumonia will again become epidemic which will allow some relief from excess population.

    I had measles as a child and was miserable. Lucky to have an uncomplicated course of disease. I had whooping cough as a child and nearly starved to death from vomiting almost all I ate for 3-4 weeks. My aunt noticed I was “getting awfully thin”.

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