Saturday, January 31, 2015
Does the vaccination issue form a moral parallel to the former military draft?
This Saturday morning, Vox Media retweeted a strong article by Sarah Kliff, “Vaccination is not a personal decision. It’s a social obligation.” The link is here. Of course, the story is at first motivated by the little measles outbreak in CA and AZ. I had measles in 1950, just before my seventh birthday – we came home from Ocean City early. It may have done some small neurological damage. It’s not clear. But it can, particularly for boys.
The article is right about herd immunity. When the majority of people get vaccinated against anything, the minority that refuses is more protected. And that generates s a moral question.
One parent on one of the networks asked, a vaccine refuser, said “I am responsible only for my own children, but not for other people’s children.” Actually, the comment came on CNN on a case of a child with leukemia and on chemotherapy exposed to measles, when the father said, "I won't put my child at risk to save someone else's child" even though it's true that other people are less fortunate and bad things happen. I won’t rehearse the evidence that says that vaccines don’t cause autism (if they do, it's very rare), and even accept the idea that in rare cases, parents take a risk getting a child vaccinated with some things (CNN has a followup link on all this, "Not going to sacrifice the well-being of my child", here.)
So, to the father’s comment. well, we could say wrong – or we could say that the “common good” deposits some of our most serious ethical dilemmas, which conservatives (Rick Santorum) and progressives (Malcolm Gladwell) love to opine, as I do. The "OPC" ("other people's children") issues can certainly affect the childless as well.
But these “common good” arguments can be dangerous. Back in the 1980s, the right wing tried to use them with HIV to claim that gays endangered all of society. In some countries (most of all, Russia, right now) politicians claim that gays undermine the inclination of “normal” people to take the risk and responsibility for having children.
And the “common good” argument certainly drove the military draft during the Vietnam era, and then rationalized the student deferment system. There is an issue with risk taking, that if someone deliberately avoids it, a greater burden falls on everyone else. (As draftees, we were immunized against everything known then, including plague; I probably still have the antibodies.)