Anti-Vaxxer Legal Fight Could Set Precedent for Children’s Health

A divorced father of two is battling his children’s mother in court to get their two kids vaccinated. Their mother is an anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist, and their children have already contracted pertussis (whooping cough), a vaccine-preventable disease, due to their lack of shots.

If he wins, could this father end up setting a critically important precedent for the future of children’s health?

In Western legal traditions, questions of where the rights of parents to impose their beliefs on their children end and where the rights of the children to be protected from bad decisions begin have been longstanding and pernicious. This is especially contentious when it comes to a child’s medical care.

For instance, can Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe certain parts of Biblical scripture can be interpreted as a religious proscription against blood transfusions, allow their children to die for lack of plasma? This question has gone to the courts many times. And while older children have been taught by their parents to likewise refuse blood, as minors it still usually comes back to the parents to make their medical decisions with courts ruling both for and against the parents in different situations and court systems.

What about a scientifically illiterate couple with an unwavering faith in homeopathic remedies? They watch their 19-month-old child suffer from meningitis for a week, refusing to seek medical treatment until the child stops breathing at which point they finally bring their child’s corpse to a hospital. Is this a criminal case of negligence? According to an Alberta court, it is.

However, up to this point, no one has dragged a parent into court and insisted they get their child shots by way of a court order.

We’re a couple decades into the anti-vaccination movement, but recently it has reached crisis levels in many pockets of the United States. Schools, day cares and public areas are asserting their rights to deny entry to unvaccinated children for the safety of others including newborns too young to get shots and immunocompromised people (e.g., cancer patients). The levying of fines and even jail time are considered a step too far by some, but they certainly show how bad the problem has gotten.

These aforementioned actions tacitly accept the right of each parent to risk their child’s life through a failure to vaccinate, drawing the line at allowing parents to risk public health though arguably there’s no distinction in some ways. Even a vaccination rate under 95% risks serious outbreaks like we’re seeing now.

But this case does something different. If this father wins his case against his ex-partner, it would set a precedent that failure to vaccinate like failure to allow a blood transfusion (in some court decisions) is illegal because of the harm to the children themselves.

Legally, choosing not to vaccinate would have one legal precedent as a failure to provide necessary care. If the decision falls on the father’s side and the legal reasoning is based on what is in the best interest of the children (and not whether the mother’s or father’s parental rights take precedent over the other), then this court case would establish that vaccines are in the best interest of children and that parents have a duty to get them.

Other court systems, including those in other countries, might look to the legal reasoning used and follow suit, such that the outcome of this case could be significant in future efforts to safeguard children from dangerous preventable diseases. And that’s a very good thing.

Photo credit: fizkes/Getty Images

48 comments

Gabriel C
Gabriel C3 days ago

tyfs

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson3 days ago

Thank you.

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Barbara S
Barbara S5 days ago

Thank you for sharing

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Hannah A
Hannah A9 days ago

thanks for posting

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Sara S
Jacob S10 days ago

Thank you for this

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie11 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie11 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie11 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Rhoberta E
Rhoberta E11 days ago

@walter kryshak
I wonder what YOUR benefit is to posting every bit of negative literature you could find on this and every article concerned with immunization.
BTW, were YOU immunized as a child?
Are you being paid to post like this and by who?
Go away or visit the gravesides of infants and children struck down by these PREVENTABLE diseases !!!
Like ALL medical science we deal with human beings who are NOT identical in genes OR reactions to medicines OR certain foods !!
If we knew certain children would be allergic to peanut butter, IT would be pulled off shelves. Common sense seems to have escaped YOUR negative diatribe.
I speak as a professional who has witnessed first hand the deaths of infants and children NOT immunized but came into contact with measles or whooping cough. It's NOT something you EVER forget.

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Leo C
Leo Custer11 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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