The heated online vaccine debate in some Catholic circles has my jaw dropping like a draw bridge. Respectable mommies are acting like kids: name-calling, pointing out who started what, bullying their dissenters, tattling to Big Brother for back up… Good grief, mommas, can we just sit on time out and bring to trial the legal issues that lurk behind the veil of the vaccine hoopla?
“To vaccinate-or-not-vaccinate” debate/ advice is not the question of this essay. (Please do not take this as medical or legal advice). As our family vacation to Disneyworld with a newborn approaches, I engaged in civilized discussions with medical professionals and moms that I respect, while perusing reports, jurisprudence and legal opinion. This is an analysis of facts and legal issues that I digested as I formed my own opinion.
Parental Points of View on Vaccines
Children have suffered permanent disability or died from vaccine-preventable diseases. Along with the American Pediatric Academy, pro-vaccine parents warn of the catastrophe of not vaccinating. Many champion an alleged social responsibility of all families toward public health.
Vaccine-cautious parents delay or select vaccines because of children whose immune systems are compromised, suffered a severe adverse reaction to vaccines, or got infected with the disease and died after vaccination. Others prefer natural prevention, remedies and resulting immunity. Still, some parents cannot in their conscience participate in the use of unethical vaccines derived from aborted fetal cell lines. All of these moms love their children, and despite varying parenting decisions, none of them deliberately wish harm to their children or grief to other parents.
Medical and Scientific Opinion on Vaccines
Most medical professionals support vaccines because vaccines serve the common good of public health; they decrease outbreaks, and protect the elderly, pregnant and infants who cannot yet get vaccinated. Theoretically, the fewer in the population vaccinate, the less effective the herd immunity is.
A number of physicians and medical practitioners argue against the myth of herd immunity and criticize the safety of vaccines. Whatever is best for the herd is not always an across the board solution for all families as not everyone needs a vaccine or the same number of vaccines to be immune. The CDC aggressive vaccine schedule has been scrutinized, as well as vaccine association with serious adverse side effects like seizures and deaths. An expert-scientist refutes the general safety and efficiency of particular vaccines, and stresses that an unvaccinated person per se does not pose a threat to public safety. Scientific research is complex and not immune to change or challenge as long-term side effects to drugs could be upended by new discovery generations later.
Legal Issues on Vaccines
The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 was established in acknowledgement that “vaccine injuries and death are real” (and strangely to shield pharmaceutical industries from civil liability lawsuits). The Department of Health provides a table for vaccine injuries which lists known and serious side effects (e.g anaphylaxis, death) within a time frame that are presumed to be caused by vaccines, and entitles victims to compensation. In 2010, the amount awarded by the US Circuit Courts to vaccine victims amounted to $2 billion dollars. In 2014 alone, the Special Court in Washington DC awarded $202 million in compensation to 365 victims. The Center for Disease Control concludes in its Vaccination Mandates document:
“Vaccines are safe and effective. However, they are neither perfectly safe nor perfectly effective. Consequently, some persons who receive vaccines will be injured as a result, and some persons who receive vaccines will not be protected.”
The more I’ve dialogued, the more I empathize with both parties and respect the right of all parents to discern what’s best for the care of own families, or to refuse or assume risks. We can vaccinate our own children or not. We can encourage vaccinations to protect others, and we can oppose unethically sourced vaccines to push the production of ethical vaccines or promote vaccine safety and conscientious discernment. We have neither right nor obligation to decide for other families.
To mandate controversially unsafe vaccines for public safety is illogical. Worse, blanket vaccination is a grave legal issue that has terrifying repercussions on our parenting rights and religious liberty. A Catholic parent who is ready to surrender these rights blindly to a federal or state government or government agency needs to consider the can of worms it shakes loose.
Threat to Parental Rights
The Fourteenth Amendment shelters the fundamental parental “right to the care, custody and control of their children.” The “compelling interest” of public health and safety may limit this right provided it passes the “least restrictive means test.” Mandatory vaccines fails the test since it is more restrictive than other means of ensuring public health and safety (e.g free vaccine campaign, health education, medical remedies and treatment for diseases, public hygiene and sanitary law enforcement etc.)
However, if the Supreme Court is persuaded otherwise, and establishes leniency over the Fourteenth Amendment watch, this stampedes off over a cliff of dangerous precedent. Who could be next? Formula-fed infants or psychologically neglected “cry-it-out” babies? Toddlers abandoned to traumatic time out consequences? Special-needs children who should have been aborted? GMO-Paleo-Vegan-Whole40-Glutten-nourished children? Home-educated and Catechized tweens? Sexually-active teenagers carrying venereal disease?
Menace to Religious Freedom
Certain mandatory vaccines are upheld to be part of the police power of the state for public safety and health (immigrants and military members). The recent landmark Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby case tethered the breadth of compulsory “healthcare” interests, (i.e the contraceptive mandates in the “Affordable Care Act”) with the sacrosanct First Amendment right of religious freedom imbedded in the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the Affordable Care Act failed to pass the least restrictive means test. However, Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby also perilously hinted that a lower standard would be applied for vaccines.
As Catholics, we know the freedom to form one’s conscience has ramifications in eternity for every soul. A misplaced responsibility to public health as a common good, being only temporal, is subordinate to that. The religious exemption must stay or we risk losing our own conscience rights in matters of homosexual unions, abortion participation, or sterilization and artificial contraception use.
Our children are ours to love, not the government’s as parens patriaie, not the American Pediatric Academy’s, not the Center for Disease Control, not our next-door neighbor’s. Our Catholic religion must be defended against the crush of secularism. The government would be overstepping their Constitutional boundaries if they shot their tentacles into the privacy right of our homes and dictate our consciences.
Mandatory vaccinations as a scapegoat to violate our rights and freedoms is the sinister submarine lurking behind this issue. If Catholic parents could spot the red flags of what’s at stake, maybe they can get past the mommy wars of vaccines, rediscover the virtue of charity and recognize that there is something more evil than measles here. We mommas need to stick together for our children, our Church and our freedoms.