Recently, the United States has been struck by a measles outbreak, with cases in the month of January already outnumbering the cases diagnosed last year. The measles outbreak started in California’s Disneyland, finally providing “It’s a Small World” a challenger for the worst part of visiting that theme park.
Why has measles come roaring back? Well, it is tied to why it went away in the first place.
As with many other viruses, vaccines have been able to monumentally reduce the number of those stricken by measles in the first place. Recently, however, vaccines have come under fire. The movement claiming that vaccines cause serious health issues has gained quite some momentum over the years. Now, the debate has reached the highest levels of government, with political leaders taking stances on making vaccines compulsory for the public. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie came out in support of giving parents the right to choose, while Kentucky senator and shockingly real doctor Rand Paul claimed vaccines could cause “mental disorders.”
The vaccine debate can be divided into two debates, one seemingly one-sided and another occupying a more gray area. The first debate is whether to vaccinate your child. The pro-vaccination side has the backing of thousands of scientists and doctors, countless scientific studies and institutions such as the CDC and the WHO. The anti-vaccination side is lead by noted porn star and e-cigarette spokeswoman Jenny McCarthy. The evidence is so overwhelming that this debate is simple: vaccinate your kid. However, the idea of the government forcing parents to vaccinate their child presents a more interesting debate on the rights of both an individual and a guardian.
The debate hinges on the scope of two rights: the right to control one’s body and health, and the right of a parent to control their child’s health.
The idea of the government forcing a legal adult to inject a substance into his or her body sets a dangerous precedence, if nothing else. Yes, herd immunity exists and vaccines are a public health issue, not a private one. However, we do not exist in a vacuum and legal precedence is a dangerous thing. It takes a degree of trust in the government to give them such power. Many people fail to empathize with others who lack this trust in the government and it spills out into other debates as well, from gun control to privacy rights.
However, to a government accused of spying on its own citizens and selling out to corporations, we offer too much trust. People should have a right to their own body and what gets put in it. Undoubtedly, vaccines are beneficial, but they represent a forfeiture of rights many have and should have pause about.
So we address the issue of whether a guardian has the right to control the body and health of his or her child. For vaccines, like any other health issue, a choice must be made. An infant certainly cannot make the choice for itself. Therefore, either the government or a guardian must make that decision. Many times, the government would make the right decision. However, it remains that many would prefer the right to remain for the individual to make the wrong decision rather than the right be withheld by the government so it can make life changing decisions.
Indeed, legal precedence seems to favor those against compulsory government vaccines. The right to one’s health and one’s body have been protected by the Supreme Court. Issues like abortion or sexual activity have been found to fall under the privacy clause of the Constitution, allowing one the right to control one’s body. This is not a new idea either. John Locke once wrote that man “has a right to decide what would become of himself and what he would do, and as having a right to reap the benefits of what he did.” The right to one’s body is a vital, intrinsic right, and we must defend it despite making sacrifices.
Legal precedence also favors the right of the guardian, shown in a popular news story. The saga of the struggle between a husband desperate to end the life vegetative wife and governor and presidential trilogy completing hopeful Jeb Bush’s attempts to stop him was widely publicized in recent days. The end result of the story was that the husband, the legal guardian of his wife, had the right to end her life and the government could not stop this. This story, while not a complete parallel, casts an interesting light on the right of a parental guardian to control the health of their child.
Look, in a perfect world, the best result of this debate would be a giant, blinking billboard with the words “Vaccinate your kid.” It is a vitally important public health issue. Without vaccines people have died, and people will die. However, we have to do this without compromising our rights. Vaccinations are an issue of public education, not public compulsion. The right to one’s body should be held inalienable and the thought of ceding that right to the government should be seen as downright Orwellian.
Defending vaccines is seen as a life or death fight. Defending your basic human rights should be as well.