Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist

It is obvious that the state should not be telling individuals what religious practices are acceptable, except where those practices are actively damaging to a person’s life or are dangerous to others in the general population. Even then most reasonable people would agree that any restrictions should be tempered with respect for the person’s beliefs and take into account their age and maturity.

There are religious groups who say that god made us with all the protection against infections that we need in our bodies’ defence systems and that vaccination is not necessary. Other parents may object to vaccination for other reasons. A common claim is that the vaccines themselves are dangerous to children’s health because they contain poisonous ingredients which may cause some disorder, autism often being cited. This is despite the facts that the originators of this myth withdrew the publication promoting it and that it has been proven to be completely untrue. Others believe that live organisms may be deliberately introduced into the child by the vaccination and cause the disease, clearly not understanding the concept of attenuation, nor that modern vaccines may be made from fragments of dead organisms or synthetically produced molecular sequences mimicking those found in the organism and which can stimulate the immune system in the same way as the organism would do.

The concept of herd immunity is relevant in this regard, the “herd” being the population at large. When most of a population is vaccinated there is a reduction in the number of people carrying and passing on the infectious agent. Non-immunised members of the population have a reduced chance of contracting an infection simply because there are so few people infected who could transmit it. In other words, the unvaccinated ride the backs of the vaccinated, as it were. They obtain the benefits of vaccination without the need to actually have it done.

The downside is that people of like mind often associate with each other and so do their children. Consequently, we may have groups of unvaccinated children playing together. Any group of children are likely to pass on infections, usually colds and minor ailments of no real concern, but occasionally a disease such as measles appears. In those cases, all of the unvaccinated children are at serious risk of being infected. Since these children may also be attending schools and playgrounds, or visiting shopping malls and the like where other children are also present they will be exposing both unvaccinated and vaccinated children to the disease. Vaccination has been proven to significantly reduce the likelihood of being infected by an organism, but it does not guarantee that a vaccinated individual cannot be infected. It is still possible. Biological systems, our bodies and any infecting organisms, are notoriously variable and different people may have developed different levels of resistance to infecting organisms from vaccination. Organisms can also change as they are passed on and may increase or decrease in their infectivity and virulence.

An attitude of riding the herd may be effective until the unvaccinated children become the source of an epidemic which spreads into the general population, endangering the lives of both those who are unvaccinated and those who have been vaccinated. Since nobody knows when such an epidemic will break out, the question arises as to whether the state should compel vaccinations for all children or wait until there are deaths because of a refusal to accept vaccination by a few. Failure to vaccinate is a chronic situation but it is one which has a significant potential to cause the death of more than one child and for that reason is a serious concern for society in general.

Who should bear responsibility in cases like this? If an unvaccinated child transmits a disease to a vaccinated child and the vaccinated child dies as a consequence, should the parents who refused to have their child vaccinated for religious reasons or from fear of poisons in the vaccine be charged with causing the child’s death? Should they be liable for monetary damages to be paid to the dead child’s parents? Should they be given a free pass because it is their right to refuse vaccination and put all other children at risk? I do not believe they should. Endangering their own child is bad enough, but endangering someone else’s child is completely unacceptable. In my opinion they should be charged with whatever criminal offence can be supported in a court, because being indifferent to the health, life and welfare of children is surely a crime.

These situations are not always cut and dried, but the overriding concern for the state must be the welfare of society’s members, especially children who are young and incapable of making such choices for themselves. When parents engage in physical or sexual abuse of their children the state has no hesitation in stopping it by removing the children from their parents’ control and placing them in the control of a child welfare agency to ensure their safety. That is a well established precedent and, when done, it is almost invariably with the approval of society in general, as most people believe the safety of children is of paramount importance. Whether religious beliefs are the motivator or not should make no difference. People who put the lives of their own and other people’s children at severe risk should not be given a free pass.

Established precedent is to seek a court order making the child involved a temporary ward of the court which then appoints a legal guardian. The legal guardian authorises whatever action is required to deal with the problem. Afterwards, the child is returned to the guardianship of its parents. The parents blame the state, of course, but no other blame is laid and all is well for the child. Why can’t this process be used for children put at risk by their parents’ refusal to have them vaccinated? The safety of the child should be the single most important consideration, not the feelings of the parents. The precedent is there, it should be used.

Often, the main line of defence used by parents is a religious one. Their view is usually that as they are the parents, they have the god given right to make choices for their children until the children are old enough to make those choices for themselves. This may be countered by pointing out that all members of society must obey the law and that Christians, in particular, are pointedly ordered to do so by the apostle Paul. If vaccinations are required by law then Christians must not do anything to stop them being given. There is no fault to be found with the parents, since they are being compelled to do something by the power of the state. Neither is the child to be faulted, since the state is overruling their parents and compelling some action. Both are blameless. Any responsibility must be accepted by the state, and if god wishes to punish the state, so be it.

Of course, the state needs no Bible based justification. Its justification comes from its existence, its authority to set laws for society and its ability to enforce those laws. In a democracy this justification ultimately comes from the citizens and society itself who may elect politicians with a particular philosophy or not, as they choose. I am reminded of the saying that it takes a village to raise a child. The village, or society in this case, has an interest in those who will make up the population after they are gone, the children, and should have some say in what protection is given to them, particularly when all of the children may suffer from the failure to provide appropriate protection by a few parents.

This compulsive approach to vaccination does not violate the principle that people should be allowed to live their own lives and do what they want because in this case it does have an impact on other people’s lives. The other people whose lives may be affected primarily includes those children who may become infected, but also includes the children whose parents refused to vaccinate them.

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