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Ok, Libertarian friends – where do you stand on this?
I’ve used things like building codes, workplace safety, and similar topics before to frame the discussion of why we need government, but here’s one of best and most thorny conflicts in that debate for you… Vaccination is one of those really difficult subjects that pit personal freedoms against societal requirements. This article in Scientific American spurred me to ask the question.
The basic conflict begins with your right over your own body. While nothing could possibly be more personally your own than your body? Clearly if we stop the discussion there, the idea that anyone could compel you to change your body in some way would be one of the grossest violations of your person imaginable.
The problem is that we don’t live in isolation. Our society, with cities that reach up to 27,000 people per square mile, cannot keep disease at bay unless a very high percentage of people are vaccinated. At some point, your clear personal right to not be compelled to alter your body with a vaccine is in direct conflict with my right to not be put at risk because you refuse to take part in a protection mechanism that requires your participation. If more than a very small percentage of people refuse to take part in vaccination programs, the programs don’t work. We know that vaccines are not 100% effective for every person. They work because they are effective enough for most people, so that the disease cannot spread through society.
Making the conflict of rights worse, however, is that that some small percentage of people may be actually harmed by a vaccine, while another small percentage of people does not need it because they will already have been naturally immune to the disease. Both the risk and the natural immunity have been grossly overstated in recent years by people fighting this fight on both sides, however a tiny percentage of these special cases do exist on both sides. We have no practical way to know if you are one of those people.
The real corker on top of all this is that to be effective, these vaccination programs require that the choice be made for someone else who is not yet capable of making it – the most vulnerable, most innocent, and most beloved part of our societies. We have to decide about this risk for our children.
Does the right of a parent to make a decision that our best science tells us probably – but not definitely - puts the child at increased risk, though indirect and far from immediate, of severe and permanent disability or even death supersede the right of the child not to be put at risk, even if that risk is also extremely tiny and further adds to the risk of every other member of society in its own small and abstract way?
Where stand you, my Libertarian friends?
Personally, I believe that you do have the right to decide not to vaccinate your child; however we as a society have the right to bar you from putting others at risk by saying you may not be allowed to attend public school, private summer camp, or whatever other activities our science tells us spread the risk you’ve decided to take onto the rest of us.
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